By Dayanti Karunaratne
Near the corner of Bronson and Gladstone, between a long-standing memorial stone store and a hipster brunch spot, sits the shared space that houses Cycle Salvation and re-Cycles. You’ll know it by the uplifting black-on-yellow posters in the window with messages such as Burn Fat, Not Oil and It’s Not WHEN You Get There, but HOW. Make your way past the iron gates and through the side door, but don’t expect a formal greeting. It’s more a mi casa, tu casa vibe, as grease monkeys and wannabe techs wander about unassumingly.
Take note of the complex open hours — it’s the home of re-Cycles on evenings, but visit during the day to catch Cycle Salvation (each group also has a shift on Saturdays). Either time is a great opportunity to pick up a solid bike for cheap, but it gets trickier if you want a closer look at the inner workings of a derailleur (re-Cycles are the DIY tutors).
Not that the look and feel of the space change much. The marriage of re-Cycles, a long-standing not-for-profit group that repairs donated bikes and helps people learn basic bike maintenance, and Cycle Salvation, a recent Causeway initiative that helps train and employ people in bike mechanics, is a happy one.
Though re-Cycles has been serving DIY-minded Ottawans since 1994, it endured in a cramped underground space in Sandy Hill until Causeway reached out in 2008 to propose space sharing. With Causeway fixing and selling bikes during working hours, re-Cycles could afford to rent the larger, more central space in the evenings, when most of its members are looking to drop in. (re-Cycles has about 15 volunteer staff and another 15 shop assistants and offers access to tools and expert advice for anyone looking to fix their bike for $5 an hour at specified times.)
Both groups share the donations — 1,500 bikes last year — as well as the tools.
If you’re shy about making yourself at home amid the tools and the tubes, make a beeline for the front, where a bright windowed room displays bikes for sale (the area is also the reading room and home of the official re-Cycles graffiti chalkboard). Again, there’s a complex colour-coded system: white tags for bikes overhauled by re-Cycles; blue for those overhauled by Cycle Salvation. These are all ready to ride and cost $120 and up. Some are merely safety-checked, which means they won’t fall apart but might make funky noises. They’re also coded by which group worked on them; profits from bike sales go to separate budgets, depending on who put in the elbow grease.
Unless instructed by one of the head mechanics, better stay out of the back room. That’s where the bikes to be worked on are stored. It’s also where trusted vollies and other veteran DIYers work and where parts to be recycled are stored. It’s not cheap, making sure all that steel and rubber goes to the right place, but as re-Cycles’ Mark Rehder says, “I like the idea of old, worn tubes being used for new road surface.”
Indeed, the community spirit at the shop is palpable and something Cycle Salvation calls a “triple-bottom-line approach” that aims to help people, profits, and the planet. They even offer a sliding scale on products and services for those looking to make a living out of their bike. “We do what we can,” says Paul Wylie of Cycle Salvation, “but we still expect you to pay.”
With all the signs and organizations involved, it might seem that this is a go-to place for all things bike-related. Not so — if you’re looking to drop off your bike for a quick tune-up, you’ll be told to go elsewhere. This is not your typical tech shop.