By Darlene Donloe
Every kid dreams of his ir her first bicycle. From learning to ride a bike with training wheels, to advancing to a two-wheeler, it’s a milestone that has become a childhood rite of passage.
It’s an enormous sense of freedom to get around on your own power as you ride down the street with the wind in your hair.
Then, suddenly, disaster strikes. You have a flat tire, the gears strip or the chain comes off. Someone taught you how to ride the bike, but no one mentioned how to repair it. What to do?
Take it to the Bicycle Kitchen and let one of the “cooks” show you all the recipes of bicycle repair.
The Bicycle Kitchen is a nonprofit bicycle repair educational organization staffed by a group of volunteers or “cooks” who run a space in Los Angeles filled with all the necessities for working on bicycles.
The mission of the organization is to promote the bicycle as a fun, safe, and accessible form of transportation, to foster healthy urban communities, to enable self-reliance through knowledge of bicycle maintenance and to provide a welcoming space to learn about building, maintaining, and riding bicycles.
The Bicycle Kitchen is not a bike store, but rather a place where the community can come and learn about bikes, fix their bikes and even build a bike from scratch at a nominal cost.
Whatever is wrong with a bike can be fixed in the kitchen. The most common repairs are flat tires and brake or gear repairs. Whatever you need to know about a bike can be learned in the kitchen.
Siobhan Dolan has been a volunteer “cook” for eight years.
Ironically, she didn’t learn to ride a bike until she was 30.
“I just wasn’t encouraged,” Dolan said. “My family focused on school and getting ahead. They said, ‘don’t worry about being physical,’ so I didn’t.”
When she finally learned to ride a bike, Dolan said she loved it but was desperate to find resources to learn about biking and specifically information on her bike. She also wanted to find other people to connect with.
“I took a class at the Bicycle Kitchen,” said Dolan, who works at a law firm. “I fell in love with the vibe and the purpose. I’ve been here ever since. We call ourselves cooks. Everyone needs a cook in the kitchen.”
Bicycle Kitchen survives on grant money, plus the money received from doing community events and selling T-shirts. Some money comes from the visitors, who are charged a suggested donation of $8 per hour to work on their bikes in the facility. Although it costs $8 per hour, according to Dolan, no one is turned away for lack of funds.
“It’s very simple here,” said Dolan, who has three bikes, as does her husband. “If you don’t have the $8, pay what you can. If you don’t have money, volunteer to help out or clean up or help someone else. Share your knowledge.”
There are also $35 workshops available that teach basic maintenance.
“We have those on occasion,” Dolan said. “We try to run basic maintenance workshops to give an overall view on the basics like tires, brakes, and gears. We encourage people to bring their own bikes to learn what works on their bikes.”
Dolan said working on a bike with other like-minded enthusiasts is a great way to connect with people.
“There is a huge sub-culture,” she said. “There are a great many bike enthusiasts out there who just love to ride. If you love biking and want to get involved — drop by.”
The Bicycle Kitchen was literally started in a kitchen in 2002. It was in an area of Los Angles called Eco-Village.
“It was a converted kitchen in a housing co-op in lower East Hollywood,” Dolan said. “It started off as a place where bike messengers would come together to work on their bikes and to just be together. From there it grew. It became a place of education and a space for women and people of color who didn’t have connections.”
No longer located in a converted kitchen but rather in a facility in Hollywood, the Bicycle Kitchen, which can sometimes average about 15 visitors on a busy weeknight has various open hours so that anyone can stop by and either tackle an issue on their own (“do it yourself”) or “do it together” with a “cook.”
“We’re about teaching people to help themselves,” said Dolan, who has a tattoo of a bike chain on her arm in the shape of a heart. “If you learn more about your bike you’re more inclined to keep biking. You feel empowered to tackle things on your own. This is an education space more than a bike repair space.”
If someone doesn’t have a bike, but would like to build one from scratch, Bicycle Kitchen has something called a Project Bike, which gives an individual 30 days for completion.
“If someone doesn’t have a bike at all, they can put one together,” said Dolan, who is a married mother of one. “They can use some or all of our used parts. They can even sort through and find a bike that has been donated. It could be in various states of repair. Find what you’re looking for. It will live at BK until you work on it and it’s complete.”
Dolan said a price is decided at the beginning based on the parts a person is working with. At the end, they can pay the agreed-upon price or they can volunteer.
“We work with what people bring us and with what they can pay,” she said.
In the bicycle world, Dolan said working on a bike is called “wrenching.” Old, junky bikes are referred to as “Beater Bikes.” When a bike is built by grabbing various parts in the kitchen, it’s referred to as a “Franken Bike” – as in Frankenstein bike.
“This is a huge sub-culture,” Dolan said. “It’s all about education, fun and the freedom to ride.”
According to Dolan, no one actually owns the Bicycle Kitchen.
“We don’t have any owners or managers here,” she said. “We’re only volunteer-run. There are no paid positions. We only move forward when everyone is together. This is a unique company structure. It feels very empowering.”
Organization Name: The Bicycle Kitchen
Support for the Bicycle Kitchen is provided by the Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation led by artist and Foundation Director Lauren Bon.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making A Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The article first appeared in The Los Angeles Sentinel