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Fabian Mayer

U of C community bike shop makes a comeback

By Fabian Mayer, October 6 2015 —

After nearly folding in 2014, the University of Calgary’s do-it-yourself community bike shop is back in action.

Bike Root is a Students’ Union club and non-profit society that provides members with the tools, parts and know-how to fix their own bikes. After losing its on-campus space in 2012, the club set up its shop in various garages around town until it was offered a space in the basement of the Arts Parkade in April 2014.

Shop coordinator Jay McIsaac said they wouldn’t have survived without a space on campus and that even with the new location, the club still had issues attracting members.

“Last summer when we missed Clubs Week, we were down to under 10 members,” McIsaac said.

But McIsaac says the club is on the upswing. Though still a long way away from the early years, when the club had up to 600 members, he estimates that Bike Root currently boasts about 60 members.

“Thanks to Clubs Week we have enough volunteers that we’re open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings [from 5–7:00 p.m.].”

McIsaac said the idea of the club is to make it easier for students and staff to bike to the university. McIsaac joined the club soon after it launched in 2008 and after he started commuting to his job at the university. At the time, he didn’t even know how to fix a flat tire, but now he does all the necessary maintenance on his bikes himself.

“It’s a cheap way for students to take care of their own bikes and  not have to drive or take the train or bus,” McIsaac said.

Volunteers with the shop also get discounted, or even free, parts. McIsaac said there are many reasons to learn bike-repair and maintenance.

“I just did a little maintenance on my bike in 15 minutes that would have cost $100,” McIsaac said. “And my bike would have been gone for at least a week.”

McIsaac claims members get more out of it than just saving money. Shop volunteers will point to problems and how to fix them, but the actual maintenance is done by whoever owns the bike.

“That’s the whole idea and most people want to get in and get their hands dirty,” McIsaac said. “I’ve had engineering students say they learned more in the bike shop than in [class].”

McIsaac believes Bike Root is part of a larger movement in the city.

“Calgary is developing a vibrant bike culture community and it’s gaining steam the last few years.”

Bike Root memberships cost $10 and are good for one year from the purchase date.

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