Located on Madison St. in Bloomington, Indiana, just off the B-Line Trail rail-to-trail path, the Bloomington Community Bike Project is a cornerstone of the community that regularly draws in new cyclists and volunteers.
Started in 1998, the Bike Project’s mission is to find a way to make bikes accessible to community members for little to no cost. Running almost entirely on volunteer support and donations from local residents and businesses, the organization is staying true to that mission more than two decades later.
Volunteers with the Bike Project said that, despite the name of the organization, people do not need to be from Bloomington or know anything about bikes to get involved. Many volunteers knew little to nothing about bikes when they got started.
IU student and Bike Project volunteer Makinzie Hoagland is one such member. She has been volunteering with the Bike Project for about a year and though she knows a lot about bike maintenance now, she was a novice when she started.
“I did not know a thing,” she said. “I knew that bikes had two wheels, a chain and had brakes, that’s really it. I’ve learned a ridiculous amount in a short amount of time.”
Volunteers at the Bike Project perform a variety of tasks, from providing guidance and advice to customers to cleaning and organizing the operation.
“One of the cool things about Bike Project is that whenever people come in to work on their bikes, if they don’t know how to do it, we won’t do it for them, but we will work with them and show them how to do it themselves,” said volunteer Andy Homer.
Offering this help does require some volunteers who know a little more about bikes, which is why it’s helpful that the Bike Project receives support from local bike shops like Bikesmiths. Bike mechanics from these shops offer their time and knowledge, as well as some supplies from their stores.
In addition to providing educational services and volunteer opportunities, the Bike Project also sells some bikes and parts in order to raise money for the organization.
“We pay our bills and our overhead by fixing some of the donated bikes and selling them there in the shop,” said Homer.
Because the Bike Project aims to include everyone in the community, the organization also has a program called Earn-A-Bike through which people who can’t afford a bike can volunteer their time to the project in exchange for a free bike and access to the volunteers’ expertise.
Homer said this is one of his favorite parts of the organization and how he first got involved. When he arrived in Bloomington, he needed a bike but couldn’t afford one. The Bike Project was there to help him, and he’s been committed to giving back his time and knowledge ever since.
As a non-profit organization, the Bike Project is supported by Bloomington’s Center for Sustainable Living, which supports projects that promote environmentally-friendly practices. Homer said the Bike Project not only recycles old bikes and parts, keeping them out of landfills, but it also gets more people on bikes and, hopefully, out of cars.
Looking forward,the organization hopes to continue its growth, attracting more volunteers to expand the shop hours and bringing in more customers who are interested in learning about bikes and reducing their environmental footprint.
According to Hoagland, getting involved is simple – just walk in anytime the garage is open and say you’d like to help. There are always plenty of opportunities for volunteers to learn, share and contribute.