DAVID DELAY AND JAMES BLAIR work on Mr. Blair's bicycle. (Emily Benson photo)
DAVID DELAY AND JAMES BLAIR work on Mr. Blair's bicycle. (Emily Benson photo)

Gears are spinning in the basement of St. Peter’s parish in Saratoga Springs.

Unbeknownst to many parishioners, the church basement is home to the Bikeatoga Workshop, an organization that fixes broken bicycles and donates them to people in need.

Dozens of bikes in need of new tires, gears and some mechanical TLC stand propped in neat rows in the basement workshop. For more than 10 years, Bikeatoga has been heaven for bike enthusiasts and a haven for those seeking help.

“Some people come down here and say, ‘I never knew this was here, and this is an oasis away from my life,’” said Bikeatoga member David Delay.

The Bikeatoga Workshop, part of the Bikeatoga organization, is a volunteer-run bicycle recycling program. Members repair used bikes for those who can’t afford one or need help with transportation.

Mr. Delay said many locals who use the parish soup kitchen or Code Blue shelter also utilize the workshop. This year alone, Bikeatoga has helped more than 260 people get bicycles.

Sweat equity

Instead of paying cash, people must volunteer a minimum of four hours of work in repairing a bicycle of their choosing in order to earn it. That “sweat equity” allows recipients to learn how to maintain their bicycle and offers a sense of accomplishment in knowing the bike was earned.

“It’s for people who can’t afford a bike and need to get around,” explained Bikeatoga member Brad Beal. For many recipients, he said, “bikes are their only transportation around here, and they depend on it.”

Mr. Beal said he loves working at Bikeatoga because bicycles are an environmentally-friendly form of transportation. Like many Bikeatoga members, he’s a self-taught bike mechanic who helps out in the shop because of his love for bikes.

“Being a Yankee at heart, I enjoy reusing anything,” he added. “I hate to throw things out. If it’s salvageable or returnable, I love to see it get reused.”

Thank you

Robert Davis, a Saratoga resident, lost his car and needed a means of transportation. He came to the Bikeatoga Workshop a few weeks ago and left that day with a bicycle. Now, he comes back to help friends fix their bikes.

“It’s nice that you get to take the bike home the same day,” he told The Evangelist. “Now, I help them out. Plus, I’m learning while I’m doing it.”

James Blair, another local resident, was also looking for new transportation. “I lost my car and this will save me some time,” he said. “Everything [in Saratoga] is close, [but] I like to go to the YMCA, so with this I can go back and forth.”

The Bikeatoga Workshop runs mainly on donations. Every bicycle in the shop was donated by Saratoga-area residents, many of whom were just cleaning out their garages or basements. Local bike shops also know about Bikeatoga and donate parts or tools.

A decade into the effort, the donations haven’t stopped.

“We think the well is going to run dry, but it just keeps coming,” said Lynn Grabowski, another Bikeatoga member.

Repair work

Mr. Beal said that the shop will occasionally get a classic or more expensive bicycle; members fix these and sell them for funds. Sometimes, bikes come in that are far beyond repair, so the shop scraps them and uses them for parts.

Each bicycle that arrives is tagged with a description of what needs to be fixed. Issues like getting handlebars rewrapped, a tire replaced, the brakes tuned up or the gears to shift are some of the problems Bikeatoga members show bike recipients how to fix.

The workshop is also open to anyone who wishes to get help fixing a bike. Bobby Parrish is an eighth-grader at Hudson Falls Middle School who has been “obsessed” with bikes for years; he started coming to Bikeatoga a few months ago to tune up his bikes and now helps other people do so, too.

Bikeatoga also gives away children’s bicycles for free, with no work requirement. Twice a year, in the winter and spring, the workshop hosts a bike giveaway for kids.

“Being able to see people go out of the shop, especially at kid’s bike giveaways, and they’re really happy with their bike — it’s a great thing,” said Mr. Beal “It’s really heartwarming.”

(For more information, visit www.bikeatoga.org or call 518-290-0065.)