Bikes by the Community,
for the Community
- Liz Revord
The ReCyclery of Jefferson Co. https://www.ptrecyclery.org/
Nonprofit bike shop dedicated to increasing access to sustainable transportation through repair, education, and empowerment
The ReCyclery’s Executive Director, Liz Revord recalls always having a bike but never really considering herself a bike rider. It wasn’t until she and her husband began riding together that she grew to love it and began to realize that they needed to learn more in order to be better equipped for their bike-based adventures. Napa, Portland, and lots of coastal exploration later, they found themselves in Port Townsend and she found herself the Marketing and Programs Director for The ReCyclery. “I was hired on in May of 2019 and had six months under my belt before the opportunity to become the ED presented itself and I jumped at that chance.”
The ReCyclery is a full service bike shop whose staff of five mechanics offers everything from fixing a flat tire to overhauling electric bikes.
It was started as a for-profit business by two brothers who wanted to open up their own bike shop, and converted to a nonprofit in July 2010.
Thus, The Reyclery also functions as a community hub, offering opportunities for youth and adults to create sustainable transportation for themselves. Programs like their “Earn-a-Bike” enable volunteers and community members to donate 25 hours of their time in the shop, and in turn build a bike from scratch. The ReCyclery focuses on refurbishing bikes, many being donated by the community. The ReCyclery crew salvages parts that we can refurbish and whatever can’t be saved gets recycled. They offer workshops such as a four-week “Foundations” course which covers basic bike mechanics for beginners, wheel-building classes, and a “Women Trans Femme” (WTF) course run by women mechanics.
Other programs like their “Community Shop Days” (based on a sliding-scale membership) allows access to a full stand and tools. Members can work on their own bike with the guidance of a skilled mechanic. And if you’re not a member, you can still get access for only $5, for every 2.5 hours of shop time.
Education and empowerment
For Liz and The ReCyclery crew, education is front and center. “I think that it’s really important for people to be able to be self-sufficient, specifically for people who are either in rural areas or traveling by bike and don’t have access to bike shops. What I enjoy most is the opportunity to teach and educate people on sustainable transportation, as well as recreation.”
“If we can teach you how to repair your bike, then we absolutely will. And if it’s something that takes a little bit more skills, and training, then we have our mechanics work on it.
Providing access to the broader community
“We live on the Olympic Peninsula, which is kind of a tight-knit community. Our county in general is about 30,000 people, but it spans throughout the Olympic National Park. And so, services are really concentrated in areas. Being able to provide services to the entire county and to the Peninsula has been difficult just because of the size. Some of the smaller communities, more rural communities, either don’t have access or transportation to get to us, or just aren’t familiar with all the services that are provided within their own county. I think expanding our reach and visibility to more of the rural communities, more low-income, marginalized communities…trying to provide services to younger folks or to BIPOC communities is really important for us.”
They do pop-ups in some of the rural communities so that people don’t have to travel so far. “We do the free fix-it stations. So, if it’s something that can be readily done under a tent…you know, we’re not replacing bottom brackets, but we’ll fix flats and chains and issues like that at our free fix-it stations that we provide in more rural communities.”
“In 2019, we worked with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, with their teen work readiness program in which we had eight young [women] come to our shop, learn basic bike mechanics. We donated out bikes to them, we got to go on a big ride around Port Townsend, and it just happened to be the day that a lot of the local tribes do a big canoe trip around the Puget Sound. And all the canoes were coming into Fort Worden. And so, the tribe was there to greet the rest of their tribe who was bringing in the canoes. And they sang a song for us in their native language, and it was just really, I mean, I cried. It was really amazing. And so having opportunities like that, as well as working with our other local organizations to help victims of abuse, children with mental and behavioral disabilities, people [experiencing] homelessness, providing them with bikes, and seeing joy that comes with bikes, and the freedom that comes with owning a bike is really, really amazing.”
Repair and the bike industry
Liz takes issue with the bike industry’s push to promote bigger, better, newer, shinier gear. But she takes heart in seeing the folks who come to The ReCyclery. “You see people come through with names for their bikes, because they have this connection to their bike. And they don’t necessarily want big, better newer. They want their trusty bike that they’ve had for 20 something years – that has gotten them through many different cities, many different countries, many different areas. Repairing that, it’s like general maintenance, like your car, you need to get an oil change. You probably need a new chain on your bike. Don’t give up on something just because it’s broken, learn how to repair it, or have somebody repair it – and it can be as good as new!”
The shop also handles e-bikes. “One of the beauties of e-bikes is that it’s bringing out a population that may have given up riding bikes, either for mobility issues, for age, for comfort. E-bikes offer a lot of joy to a lot of different people. However, there’s a lot of education that needs to be done with e-bikes, but also, the batteries themselves can’t necessarily always be repaired. One thing that we try to teach a lot of our riders who come in looking for e-bikes is unless they have mobility issues, or something along those lines, repairing a regular bike, and getting smooth gears and a new chain and losing some of the crusty, creaky parts can actually get you up the hill that you were always afraid to go up.”
Meeting different customer needs
Shop manager, Jonathan Arp, gave us a tour of the shop, noting that they prioritize commuters so always have a stand available for quick jobs, like fixing flats and brake adjustments so customers don’t have to wait. Even when they’re busy (which they almost always are), they can help. “If your bike is your mode of transportation, and that’s your livelihood or how you get to work, then we can make accommodations.”
Kids are also a big priority for The ReCyclery. They offer a kid’s bike program that allows families to trade in bikes as the child learns and grows (think of it like a bike lease program that grows up with your kid!). In addition to the “lease” program, they also offer some rental bikes, including hybrids and mountain bikes.
They frequently build “new” bikes from bikes that have been donated or traded in. Though some of the donated bikes aren’t functional on their own, most have good parts that can be repurposed. This enables them to customize bikes for folks seeking something that fits them just right. “It’s like, ‘alright, here’s a bike that fits you. Now, what kind of handlebars are going to work best for you? Or how much can you lean over?”
Outside the shop, you’ll find the popular 24-hour Fix-it station which has a variety of essential tools.
Out back of the shop is the land of misfit bikes where bikes that are beyond immediate repair (but still have some intrinsic value) go to live. Jonathan says the community is welcome to come and find what they need. “That can be anything from you know, like the wind toymaker to sculptures. Sometimes people can actually come back here and pick up a bike that needs a little bit of work but is still serviceable. It’s just not something that we can get to and fix up ourselves. Lots of people need tubes for their gardens and other projects.”
The back side of the shop is also home to a tennis court which offers a great space for test rides. Jonathan notes that tons of kids have learned how to ride bikes back here. “We also have a mountain bike club, so they meet and do different exercises like play bike soccer, and fun stuff like that.” They hope to create a “skills park” on the grassy area adjacent to the tennis court. “A skills park can include different levels in terms of tracks – starting off with a basic pump track, so kids of all ages can ride on, up to more technical ramps and bridges.”
The importance of building skills
Though Liz has a master’s degree, she’s adamant that alternative paths are equally viable and necessary. “I believe in education. [But] I don’t believe that it is the only way to succeed in this world. And I think that hands-on skills are really, really, really important. I also think that that’s a way some people learn and they can achieve a lot of really amazing opportunities…by having these job training skills. I think that there’s this dynamic that is shifting in our world to where we don’t necessarily have to go to college, get a degree. I think that people are seeing the importance of skilled labor as well, which is awesome, and about time.”
So go ahead: start a relationship with your local bike shop!
Liz insists that any bike shop should be able to assist with your bike questions, not just a nonprofit like The ReCyclery which focuses on education. “Never be afraid to walk into your local bike shop and start that relationship. These people are knowledgeable and probably really happy to help – never be afraid to go in and ask the questions.”
As they move forward, building out more programs, and enhancing the site itself, Liz really hopes to make The ReCyclery a place where more women, more people of color, and more marginalized individuals and communities feel welcome. “It has been a cis-white male dominated culture for way too long. I think that times are changing, which is really beautiful to see. I would always encourage people to start a relationship with their local bike shop. Because it’s, it’s not as scary as what you think. And, you know, a bike can literally set you free.”