I was temporarily evicted from my house this evening to make room for “Ladies Game Night”. The women on my block get together once a month at someone’s house to play games, drink the beverage of their choice and connect. Despite being un-invited, I support Ladies Game Night – fellowship is important to well-being and knowing your neighbors builds strong community, so I was 100 percent behind this as I pedaled off under lowering skies to kill some time on a chilly Thursday evening.
I meandered my way over to Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles (MMRB) at 520 N. Prior Ave. in the Midway of St. Paul. I have volunteered periodically at MMRB since 2008 when I helped out with a bike repair push to help get bikes to folks that need them in time for Christmas. Since then, I have helped with repairs of bikes to be placed with people who need them, tear-downs of bikes that cannot be salvaged, and worked at least three recycling events to keep the bikes coming in.
I think Mike and Benita do a great community service and I enjoy helping them on their mission, so I used my forced time out of the house tonight to talk with them about MMRB. Here’s what I learned:
MMRB has been operating since 1998, although for most of that time, they have not had a shop, per se – they moved into the shop space on Prior about 3 years ago – from 1998 until then, the operation was literally run out of their garage.
JCR: How would you describe what you do?
MMRB: We recycle junk bicycles by saving any useable parts, recycling the tires and metal, and we re-use anything we can to get bikes that can be repaired back on the street. We don’t take a salary from this – it’s all volunteered time. In fact, if we ever got to the point where we were making a profit, we would look to provide a job for a disadvantaged person n the community.
JCR: How long have you been doing this?
MMRB: Although we’ve only had our shop space for three years, MMRB has been operating since 1998.
JCR: Most of your “business” involves giving away bikes for free – not selling them. How does that work?
MMRB: There are no specific requirements to get a bike from MMRB. Our customers range from homeless people to former State Senators. If anyone gives us their name and contact information they get added to our list and when we get to your request, we’ll fix a bike and then call you to come pick it up, We deliberately set up MMRB to give us the flexibility to meet any need. Most of our customers are people in homeless shelters or in transition, but we serve everyone.
JCR: What is most satisfying about this?
MMRB: Seeing results. Homeless people have gotten bicycles from us, and that enabled them to get and hold a job, and to earn money. With that, they were able to go from being homeless to being self-sufficient – and our bikes helped make that possible..
JCR: Where do you get the bikes?
MMRB: Most of the bikes come from recycling events, but we are always looking for sources of repairable bikes.. As word about MMRB has gotten out, people have also donated used bikes and used parts as well, and that’s been very helpful. Also, we have partnerships with Bikes for Kids in Coon Rapids and Jefferson School and Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness. They bring us bikes or they bring us customers.
JCR: What kinds of bikes do you need the most?
MMRB: We need everything – all kinds of people, from families to people in recovery, can benefit from having a bicycle. We especially need tall men’s mountain bikes because a lot of our bikes are placed with men in transitional situations, and they rely on the bikes for transportation to job interviews, treatment and eventually jobs, so large men’s mountain bikes are always in high demand. But of course many different kinds of people need bikes – we can use virtually any kind of bike, really.
JCR: How many bikes do you place with people per year?
MMRB: We set a record last year – we gave bikes to 532 people in 2010.
JCR: So your bikes are free but your refer to this place as a shop – do you sell things to the public as well?
MMRB: We do. Our primary mission is to repair bikes and give them to people who truly need them, but we sell enough parts, and complete bikes, to cover the expenses of operating MMRB. We are the ultimate bike junk-yard. If you need a part to fix an old bike, you might be able to find it here – and we sell parts cheap; we are an affordable alternative for people looking to fix up and old bike.
JCR: Tell me about the volunteer opportunities at MMRB.
MMRB: We can always use help to repair bikes; experienced mechanics are always in demand here – we have a long list of people looking for bikes and it’s hard to keep up with the demand, so people who can fix bikes and help us move them out are really appreciated, Even if someone doesn’t have repair skills, there is other important work to do – tearing down bikes for recycling is a great way to learn about bikes, and we need help sorting parts and organizing our storage garages. We could even use some help to create a better window display and learning how to better manage our website. We even have data entry tasks as well. Basically, if you can do it, we can use it!
JCR: Who are your customers?
MMRB: The Twin Cities bike community is so diverse that it is impossible to pigeon-hole them. We have racers, 3-speeders, bike scavengers, BMXer’s, commuters and every other type of rider coming into the shop. We have met a lot of interesting people who are out there riding all the time. Wide range of customers. What we like is that we are always learning from them – there’s so much depth to the cycling community here. We have great relationships with the other independent bike shops, too – we send customers there and they send people here, depending on what they are looking for.
JCR: Is there anything else you want to biking community to know about you?
MMRB: We can’t say enough how much we appreciate all the volunteers that have helped out. Thanks also to the people and organizations that have donated bikes to us – we could not have done that without you!
Thanks to Mike and Benita for their work and for indulging my line of questioning this evening. The ride home was dark, cold and damp, but somehow I stayed warm on the way home.