Kids and bikes spill out the door and across a dandelion-studded field of bluegrass.
Helping hands, supplies, tools and youthful dreams. The sky above is so blue it hurts. White fluffy clouds. Late afternoon sunlight. Blossoming chokecherry and lilac scent the air; early evening bird song is ripe with spring fever. It’s a Norman Rockwell moment and I can barely stand it. The first time ten-year old AJ witnessed the the Way of Compassion Bicycle Project (WOCBP), he couldn’t either.
“I just saw it and came over to check it out,” he says, now the proud owner of a self-built refurbished bike. It looks like a toddler balance bike, but with pedals. Eying AJ’s size, compared to a bike designed for mini-me’s, I’m thinking, “What?”
“It’s so I can jump higher at the skate park!” he pipes. “I saw it on YouTube!” He’s so pumped, it’s adorable— chapped lips, cherubic grin and all.
“Thursdays around 3:30 pm until 5:30 pm can be kid heavy,” founder Aaron promised, when I hit him up for this story. He wasn’t kidding. Six free-range ragamuffins are wrenching on several different projects under the guidance of volunteers. The adult volunteers explain or demonstrate, but the kids pretty much do the wrenching themselves. How’s that for hands on? Where do kids really get that, these days?
In this age of helicopter parenting, the dearth of parents is fantastic.
The kids are out in the community, meeting and learning from other adults— not just school or mom n’ dad.
When asked how each had discovered the Bike Project, most of them mentioned stumbling across it. Which is way cool, demonstrating that the move from the basement at Aloha Cyclery to the Third Street Center is of specific benefit to kids— the next generation of cyclists. Like anything else, the future of the pastime depends upon their exposure, knowledge, empowerment and competency. And the new location, as of winter 2018, works. These kids’ve all got tools and bike parts in their grease-blackened hands. They’re focused and industrious.
When you can ride away on a set of custom wheels, who wouldn’t be?
I’m especially enchanted by ten-year old Eddy. His jersey says it all: a motocrosser captioned with “Save Water. Stay Dirty.” Yeah, baby! Eddy’s cheeks are sun burnt. His ebony hair is pulled back in a knot over a 3-guard base. Twin black plugs float the center of each ear lobe. He’s chill, ready, and determined. Project at hand? An electric green freestyle BMX. He’s dropped the original wheels in favor of 12” Stryders.
“I want to make something cool. Maybe to ride the streets.” he says. “Maybe I’ll ride it on the dirt track at the bike park.”
He needs a smaller single-piece crankset though, so his pedals clear the ground.
“We’re discussing Plan B,” Daryl laughs. A friend of Aaron’s, Daryl has been meaning to come volunteer for a while. “I know Thursday is a kids day, so I snuck out of the office.”
Daryl bounces back and forth between AJ and Eddy, keeping each kid moving forward.
Another kid, Zack, is outside in the grass, building a bike for his buddy Devon, who is stabilizing the bike and handing off tools like a surgeon’s assistant. I can see the leader in Zack already, breathing life into a Big Shot single-speed. It needs risers in the handlebar stem, the rear break is missing and it needed wheels. Watching Zack explore the complexity of a back break, new cable and all, is crazy impressive—he’s thirteen. In just two afternoons of tooling around, Devon will ride off into a Sopris sunset on a ‘new’ cruiser.
“I’ll treat it all-terrain though,” he qualifies. Of course.
Nine-year old James narfs on a Stryder wheel. Straining against rubber, he futzes with a tire lever, upside down. Noting the struggle, a volunteer shows him how the lever works. James lives over the fence in a two-story town home with a double-decker tree house and has been coming to WOCBP “for quite awhile,” he says. So far, he’s refurbished a ‘new’ bike trailer and fixed flats on both his Mongoose and his unicycle. He trades work at the WOCBP shop for parts, tool access and new toys. Today, he’s rebuilding a Stryder for his little friend, Teddy.
After awhile, James’s dad shows up. He stands to the side, watching his kid work with the volunteer mechanic. Dad has a smile on his face that I recognize, because I’m wearing it too.
There’s a surreal, super cool vibe rolling through the Way of Compassion Bike Project shop.
There’s no other way to put it. You just don’t experience things like this that often. The cooperative quality permeating the space is peaceful and purposeful. It’s so beautifully Bonedale: a community member has a vision and makes it happen with support from the community.
James and his parents moved to Carbondale last August. Both parents work at the Waldorf school, where James is a student. The bike shop has been a boon to James. “I’ve met new people and I’m making friends. I’m here all the time.”
You can see his dad’s contentment, enjoying what this community offers his son. The kids have a gold mine here– and not just in bikes and bike parts. The skills and character these kids are developing will last far longer than the bikes they’re building: resourcefulness, tenacity, patience, creativity, generosity.
A beacon of bike passion, Aaron started what was then called the Bonedale Bike Project several years ago. Through the Bike Project, Aaron strove to keep bikes out of the landfill (done), create community (done), and let people grow (done).
“Bicycles cannot overcome all the world’s challenges, but they are certainly an important part of the solution,” he said a few years back.
The Bonedale Bike Project has matured as we (hopefully) all do, ripening into the WOCBP as Aaron assumed his role of executive director to the Way of Compassion Dharma Center in 2017— thus the relocation to the Third Street Center, where WOC holds their weekly dharma talks.
In new digs comprised of exposed ceiling storage, sunlight (at last!), parts, tools and bike stands, Aaron and a fluctuating roster of two-wheel mentors pass on patient know-how. No one’s talking kids out of impractical ideas. (“Small bikes seem to be a big thing right now,” Daryl chuckles.) Anything is possible. Kids envision, build, and roll out on their own fabrications. How cool is that? They’re learning economics, trade and volunteerism. They’re keeping bikes in play for far longer than otherwise.
WOCBP is an incredible value to our community.
It simply wouldn’t happen without volunteers like Daryl, or longtime Bonedalians like Lee. On this particular evening, Lee refurbishes a cruiser in pearlescent pale aqua with white-wall wheels. Lee started out building a road bike with Aaron, which was then stolen. So heck. He came back and built another one.
“I used to tear my own things apart, but couldn’t put them back together,” he admits. “I’m learning that here. I started out simple, just helping, then learning harder stuff.”
He recently built a bike for his brother, and he likes this so much, he volunteers now, helping Aaron build bikes to sell or donate through WOCBP.
And that’s how WOCBP rolls. Furthering the bike community in Carbondale. Refurbishing and giving bikes to kids. Hosting monthly bike maintenance and repair days at Ragged Mountain for high school students. WOCBP is working towards integrating a hands-on bike shop into the Roaring Fork High School curriculum with the hopes of all high schools in the region.
It’s inspiring. Check the website for deets; their calendar for events and programming; and a Bike Project video on “the elephant graveyard of bicycles for Carbondale that no one knows about.”
Dive in. Donate. Create. It’s the Bonedale way.