By Todd Cohen
DURHAM, N.C. — When Nayeli Garci-Crespo moved to Durham from Mexico City two years ago to become media and marketing manager at Sound Pure, a shop that sells high-end instruments and audio gear, she could not afford a car so she bought a used bicycle.
But the bike’s chain soon fell off its sprockets and got jammed between the gears, so she wheeled the bike across the street from where she works to Durham Bicycle Cooperative, which then was located on Washington Street.
At the Co-op, she was a told she either could buy or volunteer for a membership, and then be assigned to a volunteer mechanic, who would work with her to repair her bike.
“So I was able to get home that night, still using the same bike,” says Garci-Crespo, who now serves as volunteer communications coordinator for the Co-Op.
The all-volunteer nonprofit, which opened in 2007, works to make affordable bikes more accessible, reduce traffic and protect the environment by teaching its members to repair bikes, including their own bikes or those they find and refurbish at the Co-op.
It offers to the public to repair many of its donated bikes, and recycles unusable bike parts, distributes bike helmets, offers a special program for refugees, and is developing a community garden and beehive.
Operating with an annual budget of about $56,000, the Co-op in 2016 received over 100 donated bicycles, including about 40 from Duke University that had been abandoned on campus.
To become a member, an individual may volunteer at the Co-op’s shop for three hours or pay $30. After becoming a member, an individual has several options for getting a bike.
All members must pay a $10 co-pay for a bike. A member then either can volunteer another two hours or pay $30 to get a bike from the Co-op’s inventory, or may volunteer additional hours or pay additional dollars to get a nicer bike. And once members have selected bikes, they work alongside volunteer mechanics to fix them.
More than 450 people, including 274 volunteers, attended Co-op training and repair sessions in 2016, and over 150 people took home refurbished bicycles.
The Co-op also worked with 86 refugees to earn memberships, and worked with 42 adult refugees and 24 refugee children to earn bikes, through a partnership with CWS Durham.
It distributed 270 free youth helmets through a partnership with Safe Kids Durham and a donation of helmets from the state Department of Transportation.
And it recycled nearly three tons of scrap metal.
The Co-op operates an “open shop” on Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for members, and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for new volunteers, as well as a “repair shop” on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for members.
And on Monday evenings, its volunteer mechanics can work on their own bikes.
Last year, the Co-op moved to a building adjacent to Duke Park on Acadia Street that the Durham Parks and Recreation Department has leased to it nearly for free for 10 years.
First-time visitors are assigned to a coordinator, who pairs them with volunteer mechanics, who teach and assign them tasks like stripping donated bikes, classifying parts, determining which parts can be used, and separating the rest for recycling.
On a typical Sunday, dozens of people may visit the Co-op, with lines sometimes snaking outside.
At four workstations, each with two bike stands, members and volunteer mechanics work side by side, handling tasks ranging from adjusting gears, changing seats and adding lights to replacing tires, fixing flats and truing wheels to keep them from wobbling.
The Co-op counts on partnerships and events to help raise money and awareness about bicycling.
In 2016, it partnered with New Belgium Brewing for the sixth year as a nonprofit beneficiary of proceeds from its Tour de Fat as the bike festival visited Durham.
It also received a share of profits from the Moogfest festival, which Asheville-based Moog held in Durham.
And three Triangle employees of IBM made two short videos for the Co-op that it will use to promote and market its cause, and post on its website.
To help pay for equipping its new quarters, the Co-op has raised a total of $61,000 over three years in a capital campaign, including $10,600 in 2016.
And it always is looking for donated bikes and volunteer mechanics while trying to spread the word about bicycles.
“It’s an inexpensive mode of transportation that doesn’t pollute the environment,” Garci-Crespo says. “And it also reduces traffic.”