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Volunteers Repair Bikes for Charities, Underdeveloped Countries

Over 300 volunteers gather twice a week at  Working Bikes Cooperative in Chicago where they donate their time to fix bikes that end up at both local charities and in underdeveloped countries.

Each week between 60 and 100 bikes are repaired at the North Lawndale shop, which is the only bike shop in the city that is restoring old and used bikes found in both junkyards and back alleys.

Working Bikes Cooperative each year donates over 4,000 bikes to various underdeveloped countries, and has given away nearly 500 to local charities and shelters.

Working Bikes is a non-profit organization that keeps its doors open through generous donations, grants and support from other local businesses. Lee Ravenscroft, president and founder of Working Bikes Cooperative, said it is not only helping people in local, national and international communities during a rough economy; it is also helping local bike shops gain business by working together.

Opened in 2000 in a two-car garage, Working Bikes has worked its way up to a two-story building at 2434 S. Western Ave.

Ravenscroft said he hated seeing old, used bikes on the side of the road or left in alleys. A self-proclaimed environmentalist and husband of a Peace Corps member, he said he decided to create a place where old and broken bikes could be restored and brought back to working condition.

“I wanted to save bikes,” Ravenscroft said. “A couple times a year Pastors for Peace takes a truck to Central America and distributes sewing machines, bicycles and supplies. So we started collecting bicycles (to contribute to the cause.)”

Open just twice a week, Working Bikes accepts bike donations from anyone. Ravenscroft said people simply come into the shop or use one of Working Bike’s designated drop-off locations.

Once the bikes are donated and brought to the shop, volunteers repair and restore the bikes getting them ready to be sold in the store or donated. One of the local charities often used is World-Relief Chicago, Ravenscroft said.

Keri Lucas, director of Educational Services for World–Relief Chicago, said she greatly appreciates the help she has gotten from Working Bikes over the past six years. She said her organization uses the bikes for refugees who have recently arrived in the United States.

Ravenscroft said most charities prefer mountain bikes, not racing bikes. He said once enough bikes are prepared they are shipped through the country to the most needy locations.

Locally, Working Bikes sells about 1,500 bikes each year. Working Bikes also sells what Ravenscroft said are the bare minimum in necessities, such as headlamps and tail lamps. He said they generally raise $300,000 each year – money that is spent on rent, bike shipping costs and employees.

Working Bikes has shipped to the Gulf Coast, Ghana, Tanzania, Angola, Cuba, Guatemala and Peru, and the group often pays the shipping costs.

“We made it cool and possible to ride the old bikes,” Ravenscroft said about the types of bikes that sell locally. “It used to be that people would just go to Target and buy a bike, but now people want to ride the old bikes, and we take credit for that.”

Ronald Boi, owner of RRBcycles, values the purpose and model that Working Bikes takes on.

“It works well for all parties involved,” he said. “And it keeps these bicycles from going to the landfill. The customers are very pleased to donate bicycles to this.”

Vince Boyer, owner of Village Cyclesport in Elk Grove, occasionally partners with Working Bikes. He said its an organization that really helps a lot of people.

“Customers are happy to help people that are in need of bicycles,” he said. “Instead of selling them (bikes) for $20 at a garage sale, they’re going to someone that could really use them.”

Working Bikes does not repair bikes that have been purchased at other bikes shops in Chicago. Ravenscroft said this helps other bike shops in the city. Instead of fixing the bikes for free, they send potential customers to other bikes shops, like  Blue City Cycles located at 32nd and Halsted.

“It’s really helpful to have a really good working relationship like we have with them, so you can direct people to the right places,” says Clare Knieper, co-owner of Blue City Cycles. “They have the cheapest used bikes in the city, and we send a lot of people over there, and often when people come in looking for repairs, they send them to our bike shop.”

Ravenscroft is satisfied with the productivity of Working Bikes.

“A grand total of 6,000 bikes have been rescued from the smelter each year in the Midwest,” he said.

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