Boston bike collective builds community and empowers DIY mechanics

Carro Halpin and Huilin Li

At the end of September, Allston-Brighton’s DIY bike repair organization, CommonWheels, invited the community to a “yard sale” of approximately 120 donated and abandoned bikes, in an effort to empty their storage space in preparation for its demolition by a developer. People of all ages picked through the piles of used bicycles and bike parts, looking for their next bike project at a bargain.

The building, an old car rental office on Brighton Avenue, was loaned to the nonprofit rent-free for the past few years. The developer plans to replace it with apartments.

The group sees this loss as an opportunity to refocus on its core activities, like group rides, where CommonWheels founder and board member Galen Mook says they have been “slacking.” 

“We realized even though it’s good to have this [space], it became unwieldy as a scrappy nonprofit with a small staff to manage a space like this,” said Mook.

CommonWheels’ goal is to teach people how to fix their own bikes. During “Open Shop” hours, volunteers offer tools and guidance on bike projects, with the goal of teaching people how to fix their own bikes. 

CommonWheels does not plan to build up another inventory of bikes. 

The remaining bikes will go to various community centers, like the Jackson Mann School, where CommonWheels leads its Earn-A-Bike program. The free course teaches bike maintenance and mechanical skills while working on a bike that students repair by the end of the course.

Participants keep the bike, earning a reliable and inexpensive form of transportation.

“It can be really powerful,” said Miranda Kubasti, a volunteer for CommonWheels. “People have the idea that it can be really expensive to fix bikes.”

Many of the bikes repaired by Earn-A-Bike participants come from Harvard and Boston University and have been abandoned on-campus over the summer. 

CommonWheels will continue to host Open Shop as usual. All are welcome at Charlesview Community Center on Saturdays from 1-3 p.m to work on their bikes, or just hang with fellow cyclists. Typically held outside at the Grove in Lower Allston, Open Shop moved indoors for the winter.

“I love the community,” said Mook. “Biking is really great because it hits all different sectors. A bicycle can be written by a rich person, a poor person, all backgrounds, all ages, all genders, all demographics — people ride bikes.”