Burlington organization finds new life for used bikes

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(Host) It began with an email that went to the wrong address – and a dead man’s bicycle.

Today “Bike Recycle Vermont” is providing hundreds of low income Burlington area residents with the means to get to jobs, or just enjoy themselves on the city’s bike paths.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) One day Ron Manganiello opened an email that had been accidentally sent to him. It was a request for bicycles for a newly arrived Somali refugee family. Manganiello remembered that the bicycle of a recently deceased elderly neighbor was sitting in a dumpster outside his house, so he offered it up.

(Manganiello) “And basically, that one little communication started the whole thing. It just rolled uncontrollably forward from there on.”

(Zind) Manganiello started collecting donated bikes, fixing them in his backyard and giving them to low income people. Along the way some businesses and the Burlington area non-profit Local Motion lent their support.

(Rowell) ” pedals and handlebars and seat posts and chains and cranks “

(Zind) Two years and hundreds of bicycles later, Bike Recycle Vermont is in a bustling space in the basement of Good News Garage in Burlington’s North End.

(Rowel) ” We give a lock and a helmet with every bike that goes out. People will oftentimes decline a helmet but they never decline a lock.”

(Zind) Mark Rowell is Bike Recycle Vermont’s one paid employee. He’s in charge of the volunteers who help repair the bikes.

(Rowell) “See how this is making a little sound there, it’s stuck “

(Zind) Rowell says finding donated bikes is the least of Bike Recycle Vermont’s problems. In fact, there are about 500 donated bikes waiting to be repaired. By the end of this year, Bike Recycle will have given away about a thousand bicycles.

(Rowell) “We’re only giving bikes out to people who are pretty well below the poverty line, people who have disabilities, who are on a fixed income, people who have just emerged from prison. We have a huge homeless population…and we tightened up the bearings and the bottom bracket .”

(Zind) Robert Thomas is one of Bike Recycles customers. He’s come in to have some repair work done on his bike.

(Thomas) “I’d have fixed it myself but I don’t have any tools”

(Zind) Thomas says he moved out of a local homeless shelter because it was too hot. He’s living outside now.

(Thomas) “Oh I just live in a bunch of trees.”

(Zind) He needs the bike because a back injury from a car accident makes it difficult for him to walk.

(Thomas) “It helps me get around because I don’t walk very good. If I didn’t have this bike it would take me forever to get around.”

(Zind) There’s a steady stream of people coming down the stairs at Bike Recycle Vermont. Many are kids from low income families looking for bikes. Among them are Somali refugees like Mohammad.

(Mohammad) Does it have pegs?”

(Zind) Mohammad wants to trade up. He’s looking for a sportier bike – one with pegs on the axles, so he can do tricks.

(Mohammad) “You don’t have other kind? This is the last one?”

(Zind) Bike Recycle Vermont has a challenging clientele – sometimes there are language barriers, some people have mental health issues others are under stress because of their financial situation.

During the school year, Rowell has arranged for special-ed students at local schools to come in for a few hours a week. He trains them to repair bikes.

Rowell is a former special-ed teacher. He says he gets as much satisfaction out of working with the young volunteers as he does from providing bikes to people who need them.

(Rowell) “Just giving them a sense of accomplishment and also seeing something that might have at one point been destined for the waste bin out on the street. I can’t go through Burlington on any day without seeing the bikes that we turn out.”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Burlington.

(The sound of a wheel spinning to a stop)

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