Today’s secret spot holds a special place in my heart. I will be sharing with you a secret spot where you can learn how to ride, repair, and receive a bicycle, all for free.
Biking is a transportation solution that faces both individual and collective challenges. On a collective level, cities are not optimized to support cycling. Modern cities are primarily designed for cars; their numbers make biking appear intimidating and even dangerous. We modernized our infrastructure from the wrong foot since the very beginning. Instead of 1 car replacing 10 horses, we replaced 1 horse with 10 cars. Bicycles help counterbalance this flood of vehicles.
With climate change upon us, we should do what we can to help the environment.
Cycling 10 km each way to work saves 1500 kg of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
Aside from lack of infrastructural support, biking has an even deeper issue - the lack of capable riders. A surprising number of people do not know how to ride a bike. I was one of these folks.
Growing up in a single parent home in Brooklyn, I never got the attention needed for many basic skills such as biking. I spent a great deal of my 20s catching up on skills I should have attained during childhood. Learning how to bike proved to be a bit more difficult than the rest.
Ego was the first obstacle in learning how to ride. I was ashamed of telling my friends I couldn't ride- it made me feel incompetent. When I finally swallowed my pride, and began asking friends to teach me, I quickly discovered an even bigger challenge- lack of community.
Literally everyone I had asked made verbal agreements but never acted on their word. Instructing a skill such as biking requires time, care, and patience - a demanding set of virtues. Unfortunately, many folks such as myself simply do not have anyone in their life willing to make that investment.
Having begged all my friends for biking lessons to no avail, I abandoned the dream of one day being a cyclist. My world felt limited, for I was either at the mercy of public transit or walking. Then, one day... I stumbled upon a kid named Nick.
Nick told me that he had a spot where you could learn how to repair bikes and earn one for free. “That sounds great” I told him “but my only problem is I don't know how to ride a bike.” “We'll teach you” he responded casually. “...What's the catch?” I asked... No catch, he answered. Still dubious, I prompted: “how much does it cost?” It's free, just show up! he said.
I didn’t believe Nick that day, but I was desperate and hopeful so I decided to show up.
The group is called Bicis De Pueblo. They meet twice a month at San Francisco Community School.
The meeting started with casual introductions. The intros were translated into English and Spanish, making sure everyone felt included. There were people from all backgrounds and each had their own purpose for being there. Some came to fix their own bike, others like me wanted to learn how to ride, some wanted to share tidbits of bike knowledge, and others just came to experience community. Shortly after, the facilitator listed the mechanical lessons to be learned for the day and assigned us into groups.
Come socialize while gaining a skill.
Despite working in small groups, everyone naturally mingled. I got to learn from practically everyone in the community. That’s when it hit me... A community is not just a group that believes in an ideology. A real tribe cares about the development of its individual members. In simple terms, people in a tribe care for each other.
The sessions were rich in learning and rich in spirit. I gained knowledge and attention from so many in the group that by my second visit, I was already riding a bike. As Nick had assured, I received a free bicycle after my fourth visit- no catch.
My biking instructor, Jason. I'll never forget him.
Spending time with this tribe made me realize how important community is. Without tribes like this one investing in people with little resources such as myself, where would society be? Possessing a bike has expanded my world. I freely rode the Embarcadero, the Mission, and Downtown Market Street all in one shot! I want to bike the Golden Gate bridge next.
Transportation is the real social network. Without it, people cannot meet, no matter how bad their desire to do so. We need to support the cycling community. Their goal of putting more cyclist in the streets is truly a noble one- it benefits the community, the city, and the planet.