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Summer Guide 2006: Breaking the Chains

June 7, 2006, 12:00 am
By
Bicycle collective faces summer with hope and uncertainty.


On Sunday afternoons, a small storage space on the south end of town rolls up its door. Families of four, teenagers with strange hair and shredded clothes, robust gray-haired couples congregate inside the unit and around it. They hang their bikes up on stands, select tools, stand around and confer, then go to work. In childhood, your bike was ***image1***summer's trusty steed; it conveyed you to the pool or to the house of the friend with the new Atari; now that you're grown, your bike may be an afterthought or you may not own one at all.

It's barely past noon and already sweltering and bright. Someone passes out flyers for an immigration day protest, another person puts on music. It's an easy, friendly atmosphere in which to service one's bike, and it's made possible by the Chainbreaker Collective, a loose association of Santa Feans with a love for bicycles and minds for social progress.

"Chainbreaker is not what I would call a soup kitchen for bikes," member Tomas Rivera says. What he means is that members of the friendly neighborhood bike co-operative are not assembling and giving away bikes. "We want to teach people how to build bikes," he explains. The theory of pooling resources and ***image2***manpower for mutual benefit is more sensible than your oft-tried capitalist competition model, and has at least a few centuries of theory and practice to recommend it, although the softest among us might argue that it's a proclivity as old as civilization. And bike co-ops have embodied this ideal beautifully in cities the world over since the alternative transportation movement of the 1970s. Bike collectives have heart.

The members of the Chainbreaker Collective had their hearts set on progress when they set up in a shack in the parking lot behind Warehouse 21 a year ago with a mission of sense and compassion. Anyone who needs a bike gets one for trade (or more rarely, money), and anyone who has a bike can learn more about it from capable teachers. But having so recently been afforded the opportunity to serve their community, members now face summer with concerns about the Collective's future and sustainability.

Collective members have recently been handed their walking papers. The storage facility they use as headquarters ***image4***will be leveled to make space for condominiums; they're expected to vacate in a month. Collective members-who struggle to make their $300 rent-forecast a grim future. They aren't sure where they'll go when they're turned out, but Hogan is optimistic. "I'm hoping for a miracle, yes. There are resources. There are bikes in garages all over this town. Something will come up for us. We'll get help."

"We should all work on some of these while we talk," Collective member Suzanne Hogan says, hefting a yellow frame onto a stand. "If someone comes here and needs a bike, we don't have one to give them right now."

Rivera nods, strides over to a wall where wrenches are arranged in order of size. "There are a lot of people in this city looking to cut expenses," he says. "We get a lot of immigrants, workers, retired people, without a means of transportation." For those, members will dig into their boxes of miscellany, their donated stacks of tires and frames, and assemble for them a bike. One of Rivera's favorite success stories is of an immigrant worker living on the south side of town who stole a bike for faster conduct to the Department of Labor each morning. The bike's ***image5***original owner caught him, and recommended that he visit the Collective. The Collective gave him a rebuilt bike for $2, the contents of his wallet that day. He gave the stolen bike back to its owner, and "he left skipping." Rivera recalls, his grin as silly and happy as if it had been his bike.

For those citizens lucky enough to have bikes already, the Collective provides an opportunity to get to know their bikes better. For example, a youngish girl with a straw purse wheels her bike up to the Collective's modest headquarters, a storage unit on Berry Street open Sunday afternoons noon to 4 pm. Her pant legs are folded in and rolled up to avoid catching on her bike's gears, face pink from the expenditure of energy getting here. "I'm here to learn to fix my bike!" Hogan pumps her fist in the air and then confides to the girl, "I used to be scared of my bike." The girl's bike goes up on a stand, and before too long she's oiling gears and testing brakes with the rest of them.

Rivera emphasizes the need to stay independent and sustainable in order to help the community. "The need here just totally outstrips our ability to meet it. But we have to maintain autonomy; we can't be a special interest bike co-op." What that means to collective members is a broad range of help from all kinds of places rather than a panacea in the form of a single hefty check. It means benefit shows at W21 and ***image3***help from the New Mexico Bike Coalition and maybe conducting safety workshops out of somebody's garage. Members hope something turns up by the summer's end; the turn of season may be hard to weather without some shelter.

You get the sense that members of the Chainbreaker Collective believe that bikes can change your life. "It's a big vision," Rivera says. "We want to use it as a means for social change. We want to reduce reliance on oil and roads, which destroy the earth. We want to empower and educate people who are struggling. It's a horizontal power structure. We're trying to precurse a kind of society by being that society. It's about a better world." About his own love of bikes, Rivera is a little bashful. But before long, the force of his recollection gains momentum. "I had a revelation about biking when I was in New York City. I realized I could use my own body to get around and that it would reduce my reliance on machines in a day-to-day way. It changed my personal speed; I saw a lot of things I'd have missed on a car or in a train."

 

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