Tools for Life:
A Start-Up Guide for Youth Recycling & Bicycling Programs
Safety, Quality Control, and Liability
has to do everything in its power to prevent injuries to your students,
either from working on bikes or riding them. Not only that, you must
safeguard anyone who receives a bike from your project, whether they are
kids or adults. We'll cover these two levels separately, starting with
the kids in and around your workshop.
priority is to ensure the safety of kids who are handling tools and
repairing bikes. Rules for safety are constantly laid down during the
teaching and throughout the kids' involvement with the project (don't
throw tools, don't run with them in your hands, don't use a wrench for a
hammer, etc). Always be firm in the enforcement of rules, and post them
on signs visible throughout the shop.
One blessing of bike repair is
that almost no power tools are required to practice the craft. The
only one that could be considered a necessity is a drill, and even
then, the need for it is infrequent. When working with pre-teens, we
strongly suggest that power tools only be used under the direct
supervision of an instructor.
In nearly two years of operation,
there has only been one injury. A boy was working underneath a bike and
dropped the screwdriver he was holding onto his forehead, causing a
nasty little gouge. It wasn't serious, but for us it was one wound too
It's a good idea for your shop to have a few
items available to prevent injuries. Wearing goggles or more
comfortable safety glasses is very wise when doing any kind of metal
work. We think it's a bit excessive to require them at all times, but
they should be a must when hammering or drilling.
We use heavy rubber
gloves mainly when working with solvents, but you may want to have some
of the standard cloth 'n' leather workman's variety around for loading,
unloading, and general organizational work.
Our kids mainly need them
to keep clean, but aprons are actually a good safety measure, especially
if they're made of sturdy cloth. They make the most sense in
summer-time, when kids are likely to have bare legs.
You're not going to
be able to prevent every nick and cut, so a well-stocked First Aid Kit
is an essential item. Mount it on a wall so that everyone knows where it
is and can access it quickly.
Kids encounter the greatest
risks on their bicycles. Safe-riding skills are covered in our classes,
but without a real riding program, we're limited in the amount of
training we can do in this area. There's no substitute for a
responsible adult who can take kids out on the road and actually show
them how to ride safely.
Many groups have a successful ride program and
some, like California's Trips for Kids, make it a specialty. If you're
planning to include rides in your program, or even if you want to teach
riding properly, there is a lot of information available. Start
collecting it by contacting local advocacy groups. Your next stop
should be your state Department of Transportation, which may have a
division devoted to bicycles. The League of American Bicyclists has
adopted John Foresters' Effective Cycling philosophy and will offer
clinics on request. If you can afford to spend a little money,
Seattle-based Outdoor Empire Publishing offers some excellent
publications designed for youth. These books are up-to-date, easy to
read, and can even be used as texts in a bicycle-education class.
The very best thing you can do for your kids is to get them
wearing helmets. Twenty years ago, this would have been a real uphill
battle. Helmets have come a long way since then. They're much lighter,
come in a wide variety of sizes and colors, and have gained much greater
acceptance at all levels of society.
Still, in a gritty, urban
setting, helmets can be extremely "wack" or uncool. Even
though NYC officially has a helmet law for kids under 16, it's not
strictly enforced and few "street" kids can be seen wearing
them. I. S. 218 is in a tough neighborhood, an area where kids can get
beat up for not wearing the right clothes, or even for wearing them.
Students have actually shown up for school in their socks after having
their sneak- ers stolen from them.
In surroundings like these, it's
tough to persuade kids to wear helmets, but we've made inroads. We
frequently mention their importance, set examples by always wearing
them, and make them available for only two hours of shop service. When
George returned from a long cycling trip in which he had been struck by
a car, he made a point of telling the kids that his life was probably
saved by his helmet. Our greatest progress was made, however, after a
donor provided us with a substantial number of flashy, fashionable
helmets in bright colors and patterns.
Make helmets a key part of
your program. If you're going to give away bikes to kids, it's your
responsibility to make them available to every kid who's enrolled. This
may be one of the easier things for which to receive financial aid.
Community health programs, civic clubs (like the Kiwanis and the
Rotary), police and fire departments, and local hospitals are all
potential donors of helmets or the money to buy them. Bell Sports has a
Cycle Right Community Helmet Program that offers helmets at a
substantially reduced rate to groups that work with children.
One way to combine safe-riding education with fun is by
organizing a bicycle rodeo, an outdoor event in which kids compete for
prizes based on their riding abilities and knowledge of traffic safety.
See our bibliography for publications about putting on such events.
Maintaining the quality of the work
certain amount of "messing around" with bikes is tolerated and
even necessary at RAB, but when it comes to bikes leaving the shop, a
high standard of workmanship is imposed.
When a bike enters the shop
a special green "Check-In and Diagnosis" or "work"
ticket is made out and attached to the handlebars. Modeled after ones
used at pro bike shops, the ticket is a pre-printed inventory of the
major parts of the bike with blank areas left for noting the required
work (a copy of it can be found in the appendix). Each line ends with a
check-box. A senior staff member appraises the bicycle and fills out the
blank lines. This first inspection is crucial. Major problems can be
identified before the bike goes into the kids' hands. It is also at this
stage where bikes with irreparable frame damage are spotted and slated
for cannibalization instead of recovery.
The processing time varies
considerably from bike to bike. Sometimes a bike is turned around in 24
hours. Sometimes it hops from workstand to workstand for weeks.
Throughout the process, the ticket remains on the bike and the
check-boxes are filled in as the tasks are completed. Each procedure
performed by kids is inspected by an older mentor or staff member. When
the row of check-boxes are filled in, the bike is ready to receive its
Once again, the presence of
a professionally trained mechanic is invaluable. Such a mechanic
inspects all the work, performs the final adjustments (there are always
a few) checks the critical nuts and bolts for tightness, and spots any
problems that might have been missed. He or she takes it on a test ride,
which usually uncovers some additional irregularities. After correcting
them, the mechanic/instructor removes the work ticket, signs it, and
A new, orange ticket is now attached to the bike. It says
"This Bike Has Been Recycled," and has spaces in which to
record the make and model, the serial number, the size, the date of
completion, the estimated value of the bicycle, and its final
destination. The use of differently col- ored tickets make it possible
to tell at a glance which bikes are complete and which still need work.
Orange tickets also function as price tags for browsers.
When a bike finally leaves the shop, the orange
completion ticket is removed and stapled to the original work ticket.
Both tickets are filed away.
RAB keeps every ticket for every bike
that's ever been worked on in the shop. Keeping tight records makes it
possible to monitor the project's progress very precisely. Our ticket
works well for us, but some shops may find it useful to include an
"hours spent on bike" line on tickets for further analysis of
their project's efficacy.
Another good reason to maintain records is
for self-protection. If a bike recipient ever charges the project with
negligence, the ability to produce a completed and signed work ticket
may help settle the dispute.
There is one form that many projects add
to the recycling process: the waiver. The waiver is a piece of paper
signed by the bike recipient that acknowledges the bike they are about
to claim is used and carries an unavoidable element of risk. An
organization in upstate New York called Recycle Ithaca's Bicycles has a
waiver that baldly states: "RIB'S bikes are not guaranteed. They
are used and have not been fixed by professionals. They may have old,
broken, or badly put-in parts." That paragraph certainly covers a
lot of ground.
Unfortunately, all the safety
checks and rules in the world don't seem to be enough in a society as
litigious as ours. In a well-publicized case, a woman who spilled hot
coffee in her own lap while driving a car sued McDonald's and actually
won (one of our correspondents thinks the woman should have sued her
car). Obviously, anyone who seeks to have any kind of business needs
extra protection. The only way to get it is through an insurance
Start your research into this area with your parent/partner
organization. See if they have a plan that will cover your activities.
If not, perhaps you could be included through the payment of additional
premiums. Expanding an existing plan may be cheaper than having one
custom-made for you.
Project directors should be forewarned that
insurers sometimes over- react when bluntly told that a project will
have "kids fixing bikes and selling them to people." Try to
employ more finesse and get them on your side first. If they find the
concept of your project appealing, they may find a way to make insuring
it possible. Don't be discouraged if you get a few "no's" from
insurance companies. Somebody, somewhere, will take you on.
For over a
year, RAB operated under the assumption that it was covered by TA's
insurance policy. The wording of the policy appeared to include any
bikes that were repaired under a TA project. In the Spring of 1995,
however, Karen was informed by the insurer that this was not the case.
When TA's Board of Directors heard of this, they suspended sales until a
new company could be found to cover RAB. For several months, Karen
searched and encountered one negative response after another. Many said
they would "never" insure such a program. Finally, a contact
with the League of American Bicyclists led to a sympathetic insurer. The
National Insurance Professionals Corporation is now insuring RAB's four
sites for an annual fee of $2000.