Being something of a snobby, urban elitist, my reaction four years ago to Bellingham transportation options was to assume something of a haughty air. “No buses after ten? It’s a positive backwater!” Only with time did the realization dawn on me— everything I needed was within a comfortable walking distance for an individual equally snobby and elitist concerning pedestrianism. My nightmares of an imposed sedentary or homebody lifestyle receded to dim murmurs.
Flash forward, then, to two months ago. While availing myself of Montana’s abundant and boring geologic wonders, I managed to mangle my ankle on an inconspicuous outcrop of anthophyllite-gedrite gneiss. Couple the initial trauma with a hike down the mountain and you’ll find a still-limping Devin with a significantly reduced comfortable walking distance.
The time had come, then, to purchase a bicycle— an oft-mentioned but never actualized plan for years. The climate seemed ripe for the introduction of such a device into my life; I’d be plowing through dozens of birds with one stone tire. I could maintain my mobility, retain the shape I’d entered on my trip, make fanciful flights of fancy to wacky distant locales I could never con carpools to— the world would be at my 21-speed fingertips.
Becky Renfrow, a student and biking evangelist, offered some additional practical considerations.
“I like bikes because I can get around independently— independently of nasty petroleum companies, without polluting the air— without giving any money to anybody after I got my bicycle.”
I remembered having once seen Renfrow tooling over a bicycle in a low, shed-like building just off of the Interurban Trail. Coupling that memory with vague intimations regarding a community bike shop, I put two and two together and discovered the Hub.
Founded in 1997 as both provider and promoter of community bicycles, the nonprofit Pedal Project’s goals evolved over time, eventually giving birth to the Hub Community Bike Shop in 2002. In addition to providing a community repair shop, one of the primary goals of the Hub is the distribution of income level-appropriate bicycles to those who need them.
Chris Brunson has volunteered at the Hub for over two years.
“Here, we’re doing something a little bit different,” explained Brunson.
“We’re using people’s old garbage. All the stuff we get— all the used stuff— it’s donated, and we don’t pay any money for it.”
“In a sense, we’re taking people’s garbage and making it transportation and recreation tools.”
Kyle Morris is the executive director of the Pedal Project and stepped me through process, using my own purchase as a demonstration case. First, he felt me out for my bike needs— was I aiming for the STP or the BGO? Next, he found me a frame to match my Brobdingnagian girth. A little more feeling out follows. How do I feel about the parts attached to the frame at the time? Could I use a different seat type? A different handle configuration?
Armed with the particulars of the situation, the Hub predetermines a price for the combined repair/new parts cost and gives you a guess as to when the bike may be ready. At this point, the ball is handed off to the dedicated and highly skilled volunteer staff at the Hub’s disposal. Your bike is given a full once-over, taking it from haphazard Frankenhooker to shiny, spiffy Six Million Dollar Man.
Some glorious day, you get the call— your bike is ready! You’re given the chance to take the bike for a spin around the neighborhood to make sure it’s love at first gear shift.
“If it works, great,” explained Morris.
“If not, no big deal— somebody else’ll go for it.”
Morris estimates they’re about 90 percent successful with their walk-in bike retrofits.
“We’re not opposed to people buying new bikes,” said Brunson, “but not everybody needs a new bike, and new bikes aren’t necessarily going to be as utilitarian and durable as some of these older bikes that we can recondition.”
“Our focus is the commuter, utilitarian cyclists in town and people looking for older or used parts. New parts are expensive and we have a lot of used parts.”
Your relationship with the Hub doesn’t have to end with you rolling out on a beautiful, good-as-new seven-speed; in addition to providing bikes, rental repair space and parts, the Hub also has a series of workshops designed to get new bike owners up and running on bike maintenance and repair.
“You can learn about bikes there,” said Renfrow. “I definitely learned almost all my bicycle mechanic skills there through volunteering on Tuesday nights. This summer, I built my own bike for the first time.”
“It’s an awesome resource that we’ve got in Bellingham that doesn’t exist everywhere,” she added.
As a Western student, you’ve got an even closer additional resource available— the Outdoor Center’s Bicycle Shop.
“As a student, I would encourage people to go to the Outdoor Center,” said Brunson.
“It’s cheaper, you’re already paying for it, and there’s a lot more one on one.”
At the Outdoor Center, a paltry two dollar tool fee unlocks the door to work stations, truing stands and all the assistance you can stomach— not to mention a full battery of bike maintenance tools. Like the Hub, the Outdoor Center’s Bicycle Shop also has a full suite of retail parts available, including fenders, tire tubes, brake pads and more.
The Outdoor Center is on the first floor of the Viking Union, just above Garden Street. It’s open from 10 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday, and you can reach them at 650-3112.
The Hub is located at 903 1/2 North State Street, right below Washington Divers. Their hours are variable and seasonal— the Hub goes fairly dormant during the coldest winter months. To find out hours, your best bet is to call ahead at 255-2072.