“Bikes are how I access Toronto. Bikechain is how I access my bike,” says Simon, a user of Bikechain—U of T’s free bicycle repair and educational facility—who came in to replace tires on his bike and get a tune-up. Most people wait until summer is in full swing before they get on their bicycles, but a busy March day illustrates Bikechain’s year-round commitment to cycling as a lifestyle choice.
On a sunny early spring day, the basement shop on St. George just north of College is filled with young men and women who are fixing flats, installing fenders, and rebuilding entire sections of their bicycles. The mechanics point out the best way to make the fixes, but the work is mostly done by the riders themselves. Bikechain wants people to know their own bikes and get down and dirty with them.
Ruth, another Bikechain user, says, “I have found that as a cyclist you enjoy riding your bike more if you have done the maintenance yourself and are more in tune with your bicycle.” Inside the busy shop, it’s easy to see that many student cyclists share her thoughts.
With over 5,000 users in the last 18 months, the student-run organization has grown from a grassroots operation to a facility that offers educational seminars, information about cyclists’ rights, a fleet of bikes students can sign out at no cost, and a staff of mechanics who will teach people of all skill levels about bicycle maintenance and repair. It’s governed by students and members of the cycling community. They aim to promote cycling in the community as a cheap, accessible and ecologically friendly way of getting around the campus and the city. All students, faculty, and staff at the university community can use the space. The only cost? New parts. Everything else, including the mechanic’s time and advice, is free. The shop is supported by undergraduate student fees: students pay a dollar per year to keep the space running.
This year, Bikechain is hoping to expand its revenue. A referendum on March 23 to 25 will ask graduate students at U of T to contribute a dollar each year as well. The added funding would allow Bikechain to offer more seminars, hire mechanics to help out through the busy summer months, and expand the rental fleet, opening the doors for more students to become cyclists. The grad student fee also means Bikechain can take the long view: while the basement of the International Student Center serves as the current location, the increased number of people using the space means that, sometime soon, Bikechain will need a bigger home.
From international students who want to use the rental bikes to save on cash, to hardcore bikers who ride rain or shine, to folks who are interested in high-end fancy bikes, to riders of beat-up hand-me-downs, users are welcome no matter what they ride. The space is democratic right down to the choice of music on the stereo. When Molly, another frequent friend of the space, says, “I use Bikechain because it’s freaking awesome,” people nod in agreement. Bikechain needs a yes vote on March 23 to 25: more help from students means more Bikechain for everyone.
Kaitlyn Kochany works on advocacy and outreach at Bikechain.