Inclusive bicycle co-ops cater to underserved groups

Hop on a bike and you’re already a part of something bigger.

Hop on a bike and you’re already a part of something bigger. Your simple use of a frame and wheels isn’t just a tool to get you from here to there; it’s a connection to others. To people all over the world. To a vibrant, melting pot community.

Even if you like to bike alone, you belong to a growing movement in Cleveland. And you don’t have to look far to be connected to other cyclists whether through organizations like Bike Cleveland or social rides such as Critical Mass and Slow Roll.

But perhaps there’s no place where this community is more evident, more of a microcosm, than in bicycle cooperatives.

At Cleveland’s own Ohio City Bicycle Co-op (OCBC), people show up for the community and camaraderie as much as the bicycles.

“People come here for many different reasons, but everyone helps out,” says Nate Grace, OCBC volunteer and board member. “From the bike polo guys to the roadies, and the hobbyist, everyone is willing to share and help one another.”

Bicycle co-ops not only serve as a place for the cycling community to congregate, they also create their own unique community, operating as a social club and “third place” (defined as a place people gather besides home and work) for people from all walks of life not just hardcore cyclists or “bike nerds.”

What draws so many types of people to play with grease and tools in an old warehouse?

Let’s examine the roots: Bicycle co-ops were created to empower people of all mechanical and cycling abilities with bike skills and knowledge. The history of bike co-ops is somewhat murky, though the first ones can be traced to the late ’80s/early ’90s. Found across the world, these nonprofits offer a mix of education, repair and advocacy.

Most of all, they make cycling accessible for everyone, especially and including underserved communities. Need a bike? The OCBC sells a variety of used bikes at low prices. Don’t have money to spend? Sign up to volunteer, receive credits for every hour you work and earn yourself a bicycle.

This credit-based system is vital for sustaining the diverse community found at OCBC. Since anyone with a bit of time can get a bike, the co-op draws in people who are often excluded from other bicycle shops. It’s not unusual to find people experiencing homelessness working and learning alongside college students, families and youth.

Of course, for people living on the street or staying in a shelter or anyone without a car bikes are a need, not a want. Not only do co-ops link homeless people to transportation, they also provide a safe working environment and, yes, that sense of belonging, with some co-ops exclusively catering to transient individuals.

Inclusive bicycle co-ops cater to underserved groups


Other marginalized groups at least where mechanical things are concerned are women and transgender people. To counter all the mansplaining that seems to occur whenever women try to fix things, OCBC created Femme Shop. Occurring the second and fourth Thursday of every month from 5 to 8 p.m., the Shop is open to all females and those identifying as female.

Rachel Stegemann, who volunteered at a past Femme Shop, describes the community as “warm and welcoming,” with people who are “knowledgeable and willing to teach.”

No matter what group (if any) you ascribe to, you can find your place at a bicycle co-op.

And, if you haven’t lately experienced the joys of biking, now’s the time to get on the saddle. Need some motivation? For the month of May, Bike Cleveland has partnered with uGO, a transportation network in University Circle, and Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) to present the Gohio Bike Challenge, a friendly cycling competition. Register on Gohio Commute and log your rides all month to earn points and win prizes.

The challenge is open to residents/employees/students in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina counties.


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