Table of Contents


Introduction & Recycle-A-Bicycle: The New York Model

Laying the foundation

Project Definition

Organizational Structure


Nuts and Bolts

The Bicycle Collection Network

Curriculum Content

Public Relations

Finding the Funds

Safety, Quality Control, and Liability

Last Words

Resource Directory & Bibliography

Appendix I - Financial and administrative information

Appendix II - Forms and Materials used by RAB [1 MB]

The Authors

Thank yous

Tools for Life: 
A Start-Up Guide for Youth Recycling & Bicycling Programs

The Bicycle Collection Network

Where They Are

If you're on the verge of creating a project, there's probably one fear keeping you up at night: Where do I get all those free bicycles? In reality, this may be the smallest of your worries. It will not take long to discover that there is a vast abundance of bicycles. There are more of them in this country than cars. Most, sad to say, are not used very much. They may have been outgrown, replaced by spiffier models, or damaged beyond the willingness of an owner to pay a repair bill. Or perhaps the owner just didn't like cycling as much as he thought he would.

For whatever reason, hundreds of bicycles in your community are at this very moment languishing in alleys, basements, hallways, attics, and garages. The pure and simple truth is that people would rather give their bike a home than throw it out. Your project should capitalize on this fact.

To organize a bike collection you must draw upon your community alliances. Put announcements in newsletters of local organizations and on radio stations, place a story in a newspaper, ask a business to sponsor an employee or community bike collection, and make presentations to interested groups such as civic organizations, cycling clubs, or schools.

Bike shops often have abandoned bikes in their storage area. For a tax deduction, shop owners may be willing, even delighted, to donate them to the project. The St. Louis Bicycleworks successfully organized a bicycle trade-in program with a sympathetic shop. Customers were offered a discount on the purchase of a new bike if they donated an old one to the youth project.

Other sources of bikes are local police departments, college campuses, and landfill sites. In some areas, a dedicated group of nocturnal scavengers can simply scour the area on garbage night.

What You'll Get

As we've pointed out, acquiring bikes rarely poses a problem. The challenge comes in trying to deal with the sheer number of donations. However, you don't have to take everything. You can afford to be selective and set standards for acceptance. For example, your group may only accept bikes that are in working condition, or only bikes that have a complete set of wheels. Match your collections to your project goals. If your project will deal exclusively with children's bikes, then perhaps that should be the only kind you'll take.

In our own project, all bicycles are accepted. That means we get a lot of junk, but we deal with it. Approximately one fifth of donated bicycles are irreparable and get stripped for parts. Even the worst cases have a re-usable cable clip or binder bolt dangling from their frames.

Bicycles are as prone to changes in fashion as anything else in our fast-moving society. In the 1970's, everyone had to have drop-style handlebars, whether they wanted them or not. In the 1990's, the mountain bike reigns supreme in the adult market. For the last 15 years, cycling magazines have ceaselessly fueled the fat-tire frenzy. Each year brings us a fresh crop of "innovations" that the with-it rider must have. We've been bombarded with shock forks, exotic materials, and ever- expanding freewheels (a 24-gear set-up is now common). Meanwhile, the time is ripe for bicycle recyclers. Millions of perfectly good 10 and 12 speed road bikes have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Put the word out that you're looking for old bikes and you'll be inundated with them.

Unfortunately, when the time comes for kids and customers to pick bikes, they will tend to pass these old racehorses over for the few mountain bikes that dribble in. One way to deal with this is to order a good supply of straight handlebars and upright brake levers and turn a few of those road bikes into "hybrids." You can even add thumb-shifters, if you like. These upgrades will raise costs, but your final product will be much more popular. The lighter wheels of a converted road bike make it a superior choice for anyone who doesn't spend their time bombing down dirt trails.

Ten years ago, used mountain bikes were hard to come by. As time goes by, however, more and more mountain bikes are being scrapped. Take any of these you can get because, as noted above, they are the flavor of the decade. Placing recycled mountain bikes is considerably easier than with any other style.

You're going to be working with children, so it makes sense to acquire plenty of children's bikes. Single-speed and coaster brake designs make most kid's bikes easier to fix than their adult counterparts. They also tend to be out-grown rather than worn out, which ensures a steady supply of donations. Best of all, they have a built-in appeal to your kids. This comes in very handy if you're planning an Earn-A-Bike component for your program.

Kid's bikes come in as many levels of quality as adult bikes. At this writing, GT brand freestyle models are considered by our kids to be the "hottest" available.

Expensive bikes get a lot of attention, but the biggest segment of the market is occupied by the cheapest product: the department store bicycle. The vast majority of bikes are sold by mass-market retailers at a price between $75 and $150. The limited sizes, spot-welded frames, and stamped-steel components of these cheap bikes attest to a lower level of quality that matches the price. Huffy, Murray, and others crank out 10- speed, mountain, and kid versions of budget bikes by the million. You'll get a lot more of these than you want. They can be made ridable, but the process is never quite as rewarding as with models that meet the standards of true bicycle retailers. If you're frustrated by a surplus of budget bikes, consider refusing to take them or charge a recycling fee to the donors.

How to Get 'Em

Although RAB accepts all donations, we don't go too far out of our way to pick them up, mainly because we don't have a van! The cost and impracticality of maintaining a vehicle in Manhattan ruled it out immediately. We don't really mind because, after all, we are an environmental group.

There have been times when we couldn't do without a truck. REI, the sporting goods retailer, arranged a massive collection of bicycles for us in New Rochelle, about 50 miles from the city. To pick up the 80-odd bikes, we had to rent a large truck. It was well worth it, though, for suburban cycles tend to be in better condition than their city cousins On other occasions, we've moved old bikes with TA's cargo bicycles.

Barring special circumstances, we'd suggest that you avoid getting involved in the transport of bikes unless you are equipped with a truck or van, a driver, and a budget for transport. It is difficult to coordinate individual pick-ups, especially if you are relying on volunteers, and you'll be busy enough as it is. Donors with one or two bikes will usually be more than willing to drop them off at your site. For their sake, it's a good idea to advertise (and commit to) fixed drop-off locations and times. Building a weekend workshop day into your project's schedule will make it easy for the working public to bring their bikes to you.

At I.S. 218, the tale is still told of the elderly man who walked into the workshop one Saturday afternoon pushing an unridable old bicycle. Out of curiosity, someone asked him how far he'd come. He said he had started in Jersey City, walked along the Hudson River, and crossed the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. A hush fell over the room. Kids and adults alike were in awe. The old man had walked 12 miles to donate a bicycle.

If you choose to pick up bikes from individuals, you might follow the lead of Pedals for Progress, a New Jersey-based group that ships bikes to Third World nations. PfP organizes collection drives on week- ends and charges a $5 fee per donated bike to cover the cost of transport.

Where They Go

Let's say your project is in full swing and you're churning out two dozen bicycles a month. What do you do with your finished product?

Roughly 25% of our finished bikes go to the kids who work on them in the Earn-A-Bike program. Teen and adult volunteers, too, have the option of earning bicycles in exchange for their help.

RAB also donates bikes to other non-profit organizations, a pro- gram that began with our partner organization. In the first year of our operation we created a fleet of bicycles for a summer day camp program run by the Children's Aid Society in Chappaqua, NY. Since then, we've donated bikes to Outward Bound, the National Gateway Park Service, Harlem Hospital Pediatrics Center, and the Urban Youth Bicycle Project in Harlem.

There is a special dividend garnered through these donations: a genuine involvement by our students in community service. When a drive is on, all the kids who work in the shop are aware of it. A herd of bicycles destined for the chosen organization begins to grow in a corner of the shop, and everyone contributes to it. This process reached its most meaningful height when Pedals for Progress asked RAB to fill a container with used bikes and ship it to the Dominican Republic, the homeland of most of our kids.

What else can you do with recycled bikes? Well, you can sell them We'll deal with bike sales in The Budget.

Reuse and Recycling

The essence of RAB is reuse and recycling. Both practices are employed equally in the project. The most glamorous of these efforts is the repair and distribution of bicycles. However, as noted previously, many bikes aren't worthy of repair. These are stripped of parts, which are very valuable and help to minimize orders of supplies. The remaining frame is then turned into a sitting-stool or hauled off to the local scrap dealer along with all the other discarded metal. Steel does not fetch a high price if any at all, but your bent and dented alloy rims are worth something.

Tubes and tires are items that accumulate quickly. RAB collects tubes in massive numbers from local bike shops. The majority are salvageable and kept on hand in the RAB shops. To support the TA-sponsored NYC Century ride, kids patched a hundred to have on hand at the rest stops. The unsalvageable tubes are transformed into a variety of items such as bungle cords, handlebar covering, and lawn chair seats. Tires are more problematic. Check with the local sanitation department for the address of a company that recycles tires. The only uses for worn tires that we've discovered are as elements in an obstacle course and raw material for artists and sculptors.

One of the more interesting experiments we did with veteran RAB students was to develop a curriculum on industrial design. We dedicated 8 hours of class time to create useful items from the junk generated at the bike shop. Among the class projects were designs for a clock, a candle holder, jewelry, and a game of skill. Kids view challenges like this as fun.

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