Dirtbags get 'R Done
They were supposed to look nice--like wait staff on a cruise ship, or caterers. Noah shaved, Kyle tried to wash the ink off his arm where he writes notes to himself, and they were all wearing clean pants. They'd bathed for their love of bikes.
Earlier they'd had a meeting to coordinate their volunteer efforts for a grand-opening party being thrown by Cathexes, an architectural firm here in Reno, Nevada. The firm had reclaimed a derelict building for their headquarters and put up plywood as a wall covering, turned a recycled sidewalk into a reception desk, constructed a basketball court in the lobby, and built stairs from Glue-lam beams. They'd hired a band for the party and invited everyone they knew. Not only that, but they'd also gotten the Reno Bike Project a bro deal on the lease, allowing the Reno Bike Project's community bike shop (Papa Wheelie's) to occupy some space in the back, accessible through the alley.
And now all they had to do was clean up spills, serve drinks, and keep the crackhead bums out of the party"--it's downtown Reno, after all. That and they had to hit the guests up for donations, which is the important part. That's how this clean thing works. Clean is money. They had the space. They had the motivated volunteers. Now all they needed was some cash.
Wassa bike project anyway?
Thats a damned good question because you begin to lose people right there in the name: Bike Kitchen, The Hub, Reno Bike Project. To a guy rolling a Wal-Mart cruiser to work, or a guy riding a high-end cross bike to Trader Joe's, a Bike Project probably seems like a bunch of unwashed twenty-somethings with an ample supply of bike frames, a profound respect for PBR, and penchant for hooliganism. Sure it's those things, but it's also a place where either of those fellows on bikes can come to learn how to fix their machines. Ladies too. And little kids.
But the interesting question isn't what a Bike Project is (just show up some night and you'll find out soon enough) but rather, how does such a thing get started? For that answer, you have to talk with people like Kyle Kozar, Noah Silverman, or Mikey, the founders of the Reno Bike Project.
"Kyle and I were just sitting around one day," Noah says, "and we decided we were going to do it and sent out an email."
Noah is kind of hard to pin down at first. With his ratty clothes and proliferation of facial hair he sometimes seems a lot older than he is. He's mellow, usually, and speaks quietly and quickly, as if every sentence is going to be the last one of the evening. Though he has a full XTR original Ibis SS that he got at a thrift store, he borrowed my single-speed for a dirt ride and stomped up Peavine Mountain like you wouldn't believe.
"We put out a couple of donation fliers and it just snowballed from there," Kyle adds. Motivated by the idea of people using bikes to get around, Kyle started asking people about the idea of a community bike shop, a place where people could go to get cheap bikes and learn how to fix them up and maintain them. Turns out, most people thought it was a great idea.
It turned out to be a good year for community projects in Reno. The same year birthed not only the Reno Bike Project, but the Holland Project (an all ages music and art venue "-- hollandreno.blogspot.com), and the Great Basin Community Food Co-op (a local and organic food store "-- greatbasinfood.coop). Reno has the Arttown art festival (renoisartown.com), and soon, the big music store, Maytan, will be launching the Reno Music Project (renomusicproject.com).
If anyone's in a position to appreciate the community-oriented transformation Reno is experiencing, it's probably Mikey. Mikey's a fourth-generation Nevadan turned bike geek. He comes from a family of cowboys who used to operate a ranching outfit right where the Wild Oats grocery store is now. He sort of resembles a cowboy with his beaten up old nag of a bike, rolled up jeans, ragged head wear, and of course, his drinking habits. He talks about the formation of the Reno Bike Project in his deliberate, quiet way, speaking in terms of community need.
You got to have friends
But even with a lot of motivation and a recognized need, how did a bunch of dirtbags like these guys get this kind of thing working? How did they move from grand idea sketched out over a few beers to an actual space where people of all stripes can come to fiddle with bikes? Part of the answer is that they have a ton of support in the community. They're connected.
"We live in Reno," Kyle says in a loud voice tinged with irony. "It's pretty incestuous here. Everyone knows everyone."
"And their business," Noah adds.
"It seems like a city, but it's just a small town," Kyle continues.
"A big village is what it is," Noah says.
Incestuous alliances aside, much of their success is owed to the awesome group of volunteers they've managed to attract. They have a teacher, an environmental scientist, a CEO, several students, Gwynne Middleton (the financial guru and behind the scenes muscle,) and dozens of others who want to be a part of Reno's fledgling bike culture. And there are lots of people who want to participate. Sometimes the RBP meetings in the Silver Peak Brewery overrun two tables with more than 20 people in attendance, the brewery's bike rack visibly inadequate for such an onslaught of bikers. Most of these people have been in the bike scene for years, though many are newbies who were attracted by the community bike shop concept.
In many ways, Reno seems like the ideal kind of place for such a project. But, as Kyle notes, there's still a long way to go in the campaign to make bikes as ubiquitous as cars. In his eyes, the Reno Bike Project is just the beginning of a trend toward transportation cycling.
"In the last two years there's been a big increase in the number cyclists here," Kyle says. "Two years ago there might have been a bike rack in front of somewhere, but it wouldn't have anything parked on it."
These days it's fairly common to see bikes stacked on parking meters outside the Imperial (a fairly new hipster bar,) and downtown summer events swamp the amphitheater's bike parking completely. The three tiny racks outside the Century Theater are always full for the matinée. And as Kyle notes, this surge in cycling is a recent phenomenon, literally within the last two years.
This year in particular; the month of May was dramatic. As Reno eased gingerly out of (sorry-excuse-for) winter, urban cyclists poured out onto the streets.
"Fuel costs going up empowers people to want to ride bikes a lot more," says Mikey. "When it costs you $50 to fill up your tank, then it makes it a little hard for the average working people to really want to keep their car."
The Reno Bike Project's contribution to the community has not gone unnoticed. Donations pour in whenever Noah puts up an add on the local craigslist. They had to have a special meeting to discuss the infrastructure challenge of storing all the bikes they expect to get back from Burningman. They got a Community Pride grant from the Neighborhood Advisory Board and one from the Nevada Arts Council to build artistic bike racks downtown. Recently RBP was recognized by Truckee Meadows Tomorrow with an Accentuate the Positive, Silver Star Award, which recognizes them as having measurably improved the quality of life for residents by positively impacting several of the areas quality of life indicators, including air quality. All of these accolades will go a long way toward cementing RBP's place as an active and relevant community service.
Underneath all the awards, however, the Reno Bike project is about the bikes, fixing them, getting more of them on the streets, and about building a community of people who want to see more bikes cruising around town. Nights at Papa Wheelies end with volunteers wiping greasy hands on rags and spilling out into the alley. Bugs swarm around the flood lights as voices and strange noises echo through the high-rise neighborhood. Maybe there's a concert in the park, or pool to be shot in one of the down town hole-in-the-walls, but there's always somewhere to go as riders speed down the alley and over the river, fanning out across the city through the night.
What about the cash?
Oh yeah, the cash. The friends of Cathexes were good to the Reno Bike Project. All told, the group collected roughly $900 in donations. Sure they had to wipe up spills and keep the crackheads out, but their mothers would say they got the money because of how clean they looked.