Broadening Its Outreach, SFBC Helps Organize “Bike Build Convivios”

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Mission, an energetic crowd filled a room with about half a dozen bikes propped up on stands. Among the crowd was Juana Teresa Tello, who was there to get some pro bono guidance on how to fix up a two-wheeler that will help her get to work, to school, to the grocery store, and around San Francisco.

The SF Bicycle Coalition's Chema Hernández Gil (right) works with community groups to organize "Bike Build Convivios." Photo: ##!i=2374466846&k=28KwS7h&lb=1&s=A##Natalie Gee, Chinese Progressive Association##

“It’s exciting. It’s me learning a skill, an interest, and getting a new mode of transportation around the city,” said Tello, who works as a community organizer with local social justice advocacy group POWER. “It’s a community-led process, where you’re recycling bikes, you’re learning to fix them yourself so we can do this on our own.”

“It’s a learning curve,” she added.

The event, called “Bicis del Pueblo” (“Bikes for the People”), was one of the new “Bike Build Convivios” organized by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and community organizations like People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER). At the second event last Sunday, several dozen people showed up at the Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics at Valencia and 16th Streets to learn how to fix up a bike and ride it safely.

Interest has been so intense the organizers have a hard time keeping up. “We actually don’t have enough bikes for everybody,” said Chema Hernández Gil, community organizer for the SFBC.

The SFBC and other organizations collect bikes that are donated or recovered by the police and unclaimed, and volunteer bike mechanics at the Convivios walk participants through the process of fixing it up, Hernández Gil explained. “We have these bicycles, we want to get them refurbished and into the hands of members of these community groups — people who need a way of getting from point A to point B, to work, to school,” he said.

Hernández Gil joined the SFBC last October as a bilingual community organizer to help bolster its efforts to reach out to Spanish-speaking residents. The Bike Build Convivios are one part of the organization’s campaign to create more programs in partnership with organizations in non-English-speaking communities. The SFBC also teaches bicycling classes and prints its Family Biking Guide in Spanish and Chinese, and the Convivios include an “Intro to Safe Biking” workshop in English and Spanish. Hernández Gil said the events will continue in the following months in neighborhoods including Civic Center, Excelsior, and Visitacion Valley.

Left: Oscar Grande of PODER. Photo: ##!i=2374480656&k=dXQqLdM&lb=1&s=A##Natalie Gee, Chinese Progressive Association##

Oscar Grande, a community organizer for PODER, said his organization was excited about teaming up with the SFBC to work toward common goals like providing economically and environmentally sustainable transportation options. “We strengthen our communities, we strengthen the advocacy efforts that are going on, and the awareness that’s going on,” he said.

“There are challenges in the community around transit issues, from young people not having money to ride public transit daily, to safety issues, to access issues for young folks and families coming from the southeast into the central city to school, to their work,” he said. “We look at bicycling as a way to bridge that, and do it in an economical way.”

Photo: ##!i=2374426197&k=J4d3cNd&lb=1&s=A##Natalie Gee, Chinese Progressive Association##

At least as important as the transport benefits of the Convivio, said Grande, is the opportunity to bring people together. “You’re not just buying a bike, or someone’s giving it to you,” he said. “You’re with your friends, you’re with your neighbors, you’re building bikes together. You’re learning something new.”

While the Convivios aren’t the first low-cost venues for people to learn to fix up old bikes — community bike workshops like the Bike Kitchen and the Yellow Bike Project have been around for years — the events are being promoted as social gatherings by groups like PODER and the Chinese Progressive Association, reaching residents who might otherwise be unaware of such opportunities.

LisaRuth Elliott, who volunteered as a mechanic at the Convivio, said she was glad the SFBC was broadening its outreach. “This is really helping people make a choice that is about everyday climate issues,” she said. “It’s a really good way of integrating these empowering programs into another empowering activity.”

LisaRuth Elliot (left) volunteers to teach bike repair skills. Photo: ##!i=2374462728&k=v6fh6D7&lb=1&s=A##Natalie Gee, Chinese Progressive Association##
  • voltairesmistress

    Thanks for reporting on this.  This is important and smart work.  Bicycling is the most economical way for the healthy to get around town, and it’s ridiculous that so few people of limited means use this mode.  When nearly every extended family has at least one bicycling member, you’re going to see a lot more political support for funding bicycling (and by extension, pedestrian) infrastructure.  This is a program that multiplies good.

  • Anonymous

    Please explain how bicycle infrastructure is by extension pedestrian infrastructure.  I don’t see how painting sharrows or building bike lanes benefits me, who neither rides a bike nor drives a car.

  • Abe

    It could get cyclists off the sidewalks…

    There is evidence that the more normal cycling is, the more well-behaved cyclist will behave.

  • voltairesmistress

     p_chazz, I simply meant that whenever streets become more complete — with either more pedestrian accommodation or more bicycling infrastructure, it improves the experience for the other party.  For example, Valencia Street’s bike infrastructure and road diet has caused slower speeds.  This in turn, even without the accompanying plantings and sidewalk changes that did occur, has made Valencia a better pedestrian experience too. I know that, because I lived near and used Valencia Street every day in the 1980s and it was an unpleasant walk or bike ride.  Now it’s much more pleasurable.  Similarly, Polk Street’s parklets have helped highlight that pedestrians are in close proximity to the cars on Polk and made drivers a bit more cognizant of safety, and this has made riding the sharrow areas of Polk that much safer for bicyclists.  I see the two types of infrastructure as mostly complementary.  Do you disagree?

  • The simplest things can impact how useful a bike is.

    Go to any random bike shop and fixing up a flat tire might be $10. Thing is, bikes get flats pretty frequently in a place with pavement like SF’s. Especially if you roll around on underinflated tires. So if you don’t know to keep your tires inflated, and you don’t know how to fix a flat, keeping that bike running can be a little costly.

    Instead, keep them pumped up (even if you don’t have a pump bike shops always have free air) and fix your own flats – patches/glue can be had for 50 cents a patch or less. Clean the chain, lubricate it (trivial cost), clean off the bike with a rag when it gets dirty or wet (prevent the frame from rusting out) and the savings show up pretty fast. Good U-lock to prevent theft.

  • The more people ditch their cars, the better for those among us who breathe.

  • Anonymous

    Installing bicycle facilities often involves removing or narrowing travel lanes, which has the effect of calming traffic closer to legal speeds, which in turn is a huge safety benefit to all road users, especially pedestrians. Also, converting any number of 2-ton car trips into 30-pound bicycle trips will similarly have a positive effect on safety. As @732c4803eb2e277d0054b17154744686:disqus  noted, bicycle and pedestrian facilities are often considered together when planning a street improvement, as there are many funding sources that consolidate these modes in a “complete street” category, which in itself may involve no actual bike lanes or bike-centric infrastructure at all, but which makes a street more useable for cyclists and pedestrians by simply creating a more pleasant, walkable, and safe environment.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, everyone for pointing out the many ways that bicycle improvements can and do benefit pedestrians!  As a full time pedestrian, I tend to think of bikes as vehicles because they have wheels. 


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