There's no such thing as a free ride, but at Revolutions Community Bike Shop, you can find an inexpensive one.
Since its inception in 2002, Revolutions has become a nexus for the local cycling community. Located inside First Congregational Church in Cooper-Young, it offers bike repairs, parts, and even the occasional bike tour of downtown Memphis. But it isn't your ordinary bike shop -- Revolutions also lets members have replacement bike parts for free.
"I was working at a local bicycle shop," says co-op founder and executive director Anthony Siracusa. "Most of the kids that came in had no money for bicycle repair and ended up leaving before we could make their bikes safe and more user-friendly. Many would stop their bike by shoving their foot into the spokes. It inspired me to think that there must be some type of model designed to address this very problem: the fact that poor folks often rely on their bikes but often can't afford retail bike shop rates."
Siracusa developed an idea to provide people with affordable bicycles as well as the materials and training they would need to maintain them. He would keep costs down by building bikes exclusively out of parts donated by the community. People receiving the "recycled" machines could pay for them by working at the shop. From that vision, Revolutions was born.
For Siracusa, though, the shop is not only about bicycles. "We want to transform the relationship that individuals have with the bike shop and its community," he says.
Memberships, which are open to the public, cost $40 and cover a basic bike frame as well as a year's worth of replacement parts.
"What this means," Siracusa says, "is that a member has access to the shop's collective resources." Members who don't already own bikes can build a machine out of the shop's parts library or can opt to have Revolutions mechanics put a bike together for them. After their cycle gets built, members learn maintenance skills from shop technicians and have access to spare parts should they need something.
"Memberships ensure that our shop is available to any and everyone who needs bicycle maintenance or bike parts," Siracusa says. "In this way, we are creating an intentionally woven community of cyclists."
Once a person's membership expires, he or she has the option of renewing it for another year. Even if they don't renew their membership, they can still keep their bike.
It might seem that Revolutions' generosity would spell economic catastrophe -- especially if people take advantage of the system. But throughout the shop's operation, only two individuals have ever defaulted on payments.
"A central tenant of our program has been to provide bikes to both the working and non-working poor," Siracusa explains. "We feel this service is central to what the bike shop is called to do."