by Caroline Savery
Free Ride: Absolutely the best place to be on a Tuesday night
“Really. I can get a free bicycle?”
I vividly remember my first reaction to hearing about Free Ride.
“Yeah. All you have to do is fix it up if there’s anything wrong with it. And volunteer there for a few hours.”
That moment of the dawning thought, “…Awesome!,” was about one year ago today. Since then, I have volunteered over 40 hours with Free Ride. Through their excellent Earn-A-Bike program, I have acquired two road-ready bicycles (a cruiser and a road bike), and several accessories, including a helmet. I have gone from looking at a bike as a clunky, confusing object whose mystery noises would terrify me with visions of bike repair costs, to knowing how to strip a bike and put it all back together again on my own. Being a part of Free Ride has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
This can be you!
Free Info, Free Fun, Free Ride
Free Ride is many things. Besides being the best place to spend a Tuesday night, it is also a partner project of Bike Pittsburgh, a bike advocacy group that organizes for safer streets and laws protecting cyclists in Pittsburgh. The focus of Free Ride, according to their mission statement, is to “enhance the health of our community and environment by promoting active living and encouraging bicycle transportation.”
Free Ride currently has a stock of approximately two hundred bicycles ready to be rediscovered. Most donations arrive dusty and/or rusty from languishing in garages. You may go to Free Ride expecting to receive a bike that is already in perfect order, but don’t count on it. Most of the bikes need a little love and elbow grease. You should enter Free Ride with a willingness to learn and a lot of patience. These two resources will help make your bike experience super-enjoyable.
How it works: you can simply walk into Free Ride, select a non-tagged bike off the racks (or a tagged ready-for-sale bike), and try to buy it. A staffer will assess what needs to be repaired on it, if anything, and then will assess its value. You can purchase the bike right then and there. But, if you’re like most people I know who would rather save the cash, you can join the Earn-A-Bike program.
The “free bike” is not a myth if you’re speaking in terms of dollars, but it will cost you time. Of course, I have never considered my volunteer time an obligation—it is always fun and edifying! Through Earn-A-Bike, your volunteer hours at Free Ride count towards the purchase price of your bicycle. Remember, you don’t have to be a bike whiz to be a volunteer! Everyone is welcome. Free Ride constantly has tasks of all shapes and sizes: sorting parts, helping visitors fix smaller problems, and organizing the shop are all great ways to start out. Tooling on your own off-the-rack selection is also a great way to progress from bike-naivete to bike-competence. Nothing is more gratifying than when all your hard work is rewarded, by a Free Ride staffer approving your bike via a safety test and sending you on your way!
Free Ride is an active place and it may seem overwhelming to a newcomer. My first visit to Free Ride came with the typical amount of trepidation. The rows of colorful bikes and bustling work stations were impressive. I thought, “Wow, look at all these people who know what they’re doing. Oh my god, look at all those tools… what on Earth does that one do?” But, within minutes, I discovered the cornerstone of the Free Ride program: Free Ride’s friendly, encouraging, and knowledgeable staff. Even as a novice, you quickly begin to feel like a part of a family at Free Ride. People are always glad to help you learn, and asking questions is a very comfortable, constant process. I have made many new friends at Free Ride, and you can too!
Keep in Mind…
During the summer, Free Ride can get extremely busy, as interest in biking goes up. Get there early or learn to be patient!
All staff at Free Ride are volunteers. They will do all they can to help you if you ask for it, but you are expected to repair your own bike. The Free Ride staffers and regular volunteers give a lot to the shop, and help thousands of people a year. If you feel they have given you a lot, the best way to give back is become a volunteer yourself!
Wrapping things up
Since there’s never enough good things I can say about Free Ride, I thought I’d make a list.
Free Ride is Awesome Because:
1) FREE BIKES (and some free parts)!!!
2) On many nights, there is also free tasty food.
3) Why take expensive DIY bike maintenance classes when you can learn by spending time in a cool, supportive, interactive environment like Free Ride?
4) Admit it, getting your hands dirty and self-reliant problem-solving is the best kind of therapy.
5) Using Free Ride is totally environmentally sustainable! Recycling good, unwanted bikes embodies the principle of reuse… and of course, biking has no carbon footprint.
6) You can be a bike expert or completely clueless: your mind and hands are always wanted at Free Ride, and you will always feel engaged.
7) The staff is SO friendly and helpful. And often funny and attractive to boot!
8) Even if you already own a bike, you can go to Free Ride and utilize their vast array of tools for repairs or modifications to enhance your riding experience.
9) Free Ride also sells new parts like a bike shop, in case you need something that isn’t available used.
10) Free Ride has bikes of all types and sizes, including children’s bikes. Whatever your physical ability, Free Ride can help you build or find a bike to work for you.
Really, what didn’t I gain from Free Ride? I gained new friends, extensive knowledge about bike repair, enhanced physical and mental strength, two actual bikes and miscellaneous accessories, and great memories.
This can be you!
Have fun, stay safe, and as Free Ride’s outgoing bike form says, “See you on the Streets!!!