[TheThinkTank] Earn-a-Bike Programs

cyclista at inventati.org cyclista at inventati.org
Tue Jan 11 15:22:48 PST 2022

Hi Nicole,

At RIBs, for many years, we had similar requirements to those you 
describe for your shop. At one point we also had a different, simpler 
system, wherein the applicant was required to fix up one bike for 
someone else in order to be allowed to fix up one bike for themselves.

What we found  was exactly what you have found, which was that the 
highest need groups found both of these bars too high to reach. In many 
cases, the policy was also seen as unfriendly: some people needing the 
resource were in an especially high state of life stress, as well as 
being subject to social ostracism generally, and being told they must 
not only navigate this difficult learning curve, but do work that didn't 
further their own immediate (read: urgent) needs was, frankly, 
inconsiderate. Even though we at the shop were good people only trying 
to help, we just didn't understand.

So the lesson was that higher order concepts like community development 
and mutual aid aren't really great to evangelize to people undergoing 
crisis. In kind, that we in the shop had bad calibration wrt what 
represented crisis. We might have thought of it as extreme things such 
as "are you being evicted" or "have you lost housing because your 
partner threatened your life and your only other housing options are 
with substance abusing people you had been trying to separate yourself 
from because you are trying to stay clean to regain legal custody of 
your children", but in reality significant states of crisis can be much 
more insidious and mundane. Someone can be in a state of significant, 
ongoing crisis simply because they are disrespected at their job and 
their childcare involves significant emotional burden, and they feel 
unloved in their partner relationship. Crisis can be difficult to 
recognize for someone not familiar with it, especially where it stems 
from conditions such as generational poverty and trauma. And crisis 
isn't necessarily a transitory state. It can last for most or all of a 
person's life, especiallly where generational effects are involved.

So what we did was entirely remove our requirements for volunteering in 
return for use of the space, and replaced them with only a 
pay-what-you-want requirement for parts and a polite reminder that we 
accept donations.

What we saw was a dramatic reduction in ghosting. Nearly all 
participants of every demographic returned to complete their projects. A 
rough guess would be that around 2% abandoned projects they started, 
most of those being students with busy academic/social schedules or 
hobbyists who lost interest in a frivolous idea. Over the four years we 
had these relaxed policies, nearly all in-need participants completed 
their bikes (or repairs) and left with safe and satisfying wheels under 

This higher rate of effectiveness did come at a cost, however. When we 
had volunteer requirements, it did force a lot more people to stay and 
be part of the environment for longer periods of time, contributing to 
shop culture and character. Requirements also forced kids to learn: most 
of the street-level kids in our community don't stay and learn unless 
they are made to. In these cases the reward-incentive-for-work concept 
seems to be something that must be imposed, rather than guided or 
facilitated, in order to take root. So though we retained significant 
child attendance in the case of those visiting with various guardians, 
we also lost a lot (actually most) of our solo child participation by 
removing requirements.

In general, I'd say our volunteer community was reduced by about half by 
these measures, with only people who volunteered out of passion and joy 
remaining. Our shop was small and had never really run on exclusively 
volunteer labor except at the beginning (thirty years ago) when it was 
even smaller and being run out of random garages, so this wasn't a 
lethal change for us. It did create much greater demands/stress on paid 
staff and primary volunteers.

I think it's possible to not go entirely one way or another, for 
instance to have volunteer requirements for children but not adults 
(though it might be painful to justify to kids who noticed the 
disparity), or create tiers of service/use some of which would required 
volunteering. We just basically treated the shop as a library and the 
staff and primary volunteers as librarians, and let the community use 
the space so long as they did so without harming it.

An idea for a tier of access that could require volunteer hours might be 
keyed off-hours access. This is really only sustainable now with the 
advent of [more] affordable electronic locks - in the past people with 
keys made copies, kept them essentially forever, and any abuse would 
require changing the locks. I'd encourage shop budget to be spent on 
this kind of lock, or even the more expensive mechanical versions, even 
though it involves significant expense. In retrospect, it was the lack 
of this investment that prevented us from exploring options such as the 
one suggested above, and eventually we were making enough money that we 
could have afforded it. It's so difficult to see every option in every 
moment when you're busy af with so many things.

~cyclista Nicholas

On 2022-01-11 21:54, Nicole Muratore wrote:
> The last iteration of ours required an individual to volunteer 12 hours 
> of
> time in exchange for a bike we'd teach them to fix up, a set of lights, 
> and
> a lock. These folks are already facing transportation issues and have
> difficulty returning to the shop to complete the hours they started.
> Separate from earn-a-bike we offer work trade at a rate of $10/hour for
> shop credit that can be used for stand time or regular-priced parts 
> needed
> to fix one's bike.
> If your shop has an earn-a-bike program or similar, how does it work? 
> And
> is utilization of the program high? Any input, documentation, etc. is
> appreciated!
> Cheers,
> *Nicole Muratore, Shop Manager* (she/her)
> Bike Saviours Bicycle Collective
> (602) 429-9369 | bikesaviours.org | @bikesaviours
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