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New Hope

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Issue: 65 Section: Business Geography: Ontario Hamilton Topics: cooperatives, transportation

September 26, 2009

New Hope

Bike co-op gives life to old bikes

by Phyllis Tsang

Giving new life to old bikes. Photo: Phyllis Tsang

HAMILTON—"This is the stage I like the most about fixing bikes,” Sid Slotegraaf, Coordinator of New Hope Bike Co-op and a soft-spoken downhill racer and dirt jumper, said while dusting off a "pre-loved" bicycle. "You don't always know how they would turn out. It's like giving them new lives again."

New Hope Bike Co-op, a program which focuses on helping people fix their own bikes—and providing low-cost parts, free use of tools and low-cost refurbished bicycles—is the brainchild of Jeff Neven, a cyclist and a father of four who can ride only once the kids are put to sleep.

The idea was born in 1997 when Jeff was working with inner city kids in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he started a bicycle repair club for boys and girls. Upon returning to Canada, he continued to find opportunities and partner with groups like Recycle Cycles in Kitchener and MacCycle Co-op at McMaster University, serving communities with his bike repairing skills.

In the past three years, First Hamilton Christian Reformed Church and its church plant, New Hope Church, hosted a couple of single-day bike repairing events in East Hamilton. They had been well received by their neighborhoods. The success of these events furthered Jeff’s vision of developing a bike co-op in East Hamilton. This summer, New Hope Bike Co-op, backed by church donations and a grant from Service Canada’s Summer Job Initiative, finally became a reality.

The New Hope Bike Co-op. Photo: Phyllis Tsang

Since its opening in June, the bike co-op has been serving 20-40 people per day in two locations: a bike shop in the Delta East neighborhood which is open Thursdays and Fridays and a stall at Ottawa Street Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings.

The bike shop is located in an out-of-business sports bar which was originally an upscale eating establishment in the '40s. With most of its furniture still intact, the space has been retrofitted into a bike shop by adding workbenches, tools and increasing numbers of donated bicycles.

In this purple-ceilinged bike shop with a red-leathered booth, people's hands are always covered in black. According to Sid, "The best way to learn about bikes is to get your hands greasy and work on one."

"The greatest thing about this co-op for me is that people not only get their bikes fixed, but they also bring home a new skill,” he shared.

Some, like Darrell Sanderson, who donated time at the bike shop, walked home with more than a new skill. He left the co-op with a bike, his fingerprints all over it.

"You love being here, don't you?" asked Darrell's mom, Janice, who came to pick up her son after work. The shy teenager smiled and nodded.

The three bike stands in the shop never stand empty. Whenever a bike is off the stand, another one is put up. Both Sid and Drake White, a faithful volunteer who never misses a day at "work," are trying hard to meet the high demand for bicycles and repairs.

"This is our next project.” Sid picked a dusty cruiser out of more than 160 donated bikes.

Restored bikes are put at the store front to await their new owners. As much as sales are welcomed, they can be heart-breakers for Sid, who has to let them go, at times unwillingly.

Once, as he watched one of his beloved bikes leaving with a customer, Sid held out his arms like a child whose favorite toy had been taken away from him.

"That’s my bike..."

Originally a summer program, the Bike co-op will extend its operation on Saturdays through the winter. It will return in full strength again next summer at the same location (1429 Main St E).

"Are you ready to take part in this restoration project?" Sid looked at me and my clean hands as he mounted another forgotten gem on the stand.

Phyllis Tsang is a graduate student at McMaster University who likes to study wide, think deep, write lots, and live fully.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Media Co-op.

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main location

Can i get the main street location number i cannot find it anywhere

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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