Gate City Bike Co-op celebrates one year

NASHUA – The Gate City Bike Co-op is doing more than just repairing gears on people’s bikes, but also allowing them to shift gears in their lives.

“It has been a good resource because most of the adults that get a bike need it for transportation to get to work, and it allows them the freedom to be able to get a job in more than a walking distance from where they live,” Co-founder Don Pare said. “And it allows them the freedom to get to work on time without relying on a taxi service or bus service.”

The Gate City Bike Co-op celebrated their one-year anniversary Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in front of St. Patrick’s Parish Center where they were selling quality used bikes for a fraction of the original cost to help fund their free repair clinic that’s offered every Monday in the old school house, at 35 Spring St. from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The building went unused for a couple decades, and now Pare and Co-founder John Burkitt repair bikes free of charge with 16 other volunteers.

“John had been repairing bikes for over five years for free, and he was paying for things out of pocket,” Pare said. “I noticed that most of the people that were getting their bikes fixed for free were very, very low income, and it’s their only means of transportation.”

Don had seen the add John posted about fixing bikes for free and took advantage of the offer, but soon realized he wanted to give him something in return for his service. However, John wouldn’t accept anything in return, although he was looking for someone to help organize this little repair gig he had going, and from there, within the next two weeks everything started falling into place. After getting permission from Father Michael Kerper, Pastor at St. Patrick’s, to utilize some space they began the bike co-op.

“We started off with about three or four mechanics,” Pare said. “John is the only certified mechanic, he went to school for this. The others are all bike enthusiasts that know their stuff. Most of them are engineers and now we have 16 mechanics.”

Everyone involved all volunteers their time, and any money that does come in through bike sales or donations is brought to the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter’s treasurer. They keep an account for them so that when they need to buy any items they can bring a receipt and be reimbursed, since they always need helmets, locks and certain speciality tools. Pare said three of their mechanics are just 16-years-old and that the youth have been very responsible. He also said there was a young man from Rwanda who was a mechanic with them, who volunteered for the past 9 months, that now works at Goodale’s Bike Shop.

“We wrote him a letter of recommendation and Goodale’s hired him on the spot and he’s been with them since, so really good success story, Pare said. “He used to fix bikes with a hammer and a screwdriver and that was it, and now he has tools that are specific to bikes. We bought him a couple hundred dollars worth of tools because he volunteers at least twice a week repairing bikes.”

He said he was just 16 when he joined the co-op, and believes he just recently turned 17, but nonetheless, he also said that he works well with adults and others, and is willing to learn. Actually, he’s now teaching Burkitt some of the newer things that are coming out from what he’s learned over at Goodale’s.

“So, the student now, in some cases, is teaching the teacher,” Pare said. “It’s just remarkable.”

However, after a year of bike repairs and giveaways, bicyclists gathered for a blessing of the bikes given by Father Kerper and Rev. Allison Palm, Minister at Unitarian-Universalist Church of Nashua. Following this blessing, Burkitt said he’s surprised to be celebrating the one year anniversary.

“We did this a year ago not knowing where it was going to go,” Burkitt said. “We were right here, I put together about 25 bikes, and we set up right here, and with no advertising of any kind we ended up selling most of them. I think we ended up with about 400 bucks for the day, which was seed money to get everything else going.”

From there they only grew, and he said since starting the co-op he thinks there hasn’t been one Monday yet where they haven’t given at least one bike away.

Echoing his thoughts on how it all began, Pare said he thinks they were both really naive in the beginning, thinking it would mainly last for three or four months.

“Then we found there was a greater need than we thought, and the fact that we’re located where we are, we’re right in the center of where the clients live,” Pare said.

So, in addressing that need, they were also selling approximately 40 bikes at Saturday’s celebration, and within the first 40 minutes, saw 7 or 8 bikes leave with a new owner. The bikes being sold ranged between $50 and $100, with the first sale going to a policeman who bought a small no pedal training bike that his son can use just with his feet on the ground as a way of learning to find his balance.

“Each bike you see here, and each bike we give away, takes an average of about two hours for us to get ready,” Burkitt said.

While some bikes take longer, and others less time, they’ll do their very best to repair a bike in any condition if someone is able to drag it into their work shop, so that way they’ll be able to ride it out like it was brand new.

Claire Dumond was one of the volunteers lending a hand at the one year anniversary, and was offering her face painting services free of charge. She and her daughter just got bicycles through the Gate City Bike Co-op a couple weeks ago and have been having a great time riding them ever since. She came out Saturday because she wanted to give back to the community.

“I think that anything we can do to get people more active and able to get around, I think that that’s just so helpful and good for our community cause we don’t really need to drive everywhere we go,” Dumond said.

So far, they have supplied somewhere between 400 and 500 bikes in last 12 months, with the majority of them being given away, while some were purchased. Nonetheless, as they have been working hard to give back to the community, some area businesses have taken notice, and have reached out to assist them, as well. Their growing list of supporters includes; Bagel Ally, Bishop’s Charitable Foundation, Goodale’s Bike Shop, Hershey’s Ice Cream, Nashua House of Pizza, Police Athletic League, Shaw’s Supermarket, Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, which is their fiscal agent and partner, and of course, all of their volunteers.

Burkitt said in the near future they are hoping to start doing some training classes for people to come by and learn simple maintenance tasks, all the way up to full overhauls. However, he said they are going to be taking small steps.

“Every bike we’re repairing and get back on the road is one we don’t have to give out, it’s one we don’t have to collect,” Burkitt said. “So, we prefer to do it that way if at all possible. It also keeps them out of the canal and out of the Nashua River so we want to keep that going on too.”

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206 or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.