Fixer Uppers

Erik Guzman, an 11-year-old from Greenfield, and Omar Vigil, a Greenfield Community Science Workshop technician, spend a few hours repairing the bike Guzman chose. The used bikes are refurbished for kids as part of Monterey County Health Department initiative, and are free to participants.

THERE’S A WHIR OF SOUND ON A SATURDAY MORNING IN FEBRUARY, with the pssshtt of spray paint cans, clanging of tools and chatter of excited kids. They’re outside Greenfield Community Science Workshop, working on upgrading and repairing old bikes.

This is an initiative of the Monterey County Health Department, which did its first bike repair workshop as a pilot in November of 2020, with a goal of getting more people into exercising.

Curt Gabrielson, co-director of Greenfield Community Science Workshop, says there’s more to it for kids than exercise, that having a functional bike increases kids’ freedom and possibilities: “They want to go faster, they want to go further, and the bike is the first way to do that.”

The workshops were originally intended as an after-school activity at high schools, but when in-person schools shut down due to Covid-19, they had to change their plans, partnering instead with organizations like the science workshop. The Chronic Disease Prevention Team at the Health Department is in charge of spreading information about things like teen pregnancy, tobacco control – and bike safety, says the team’s coordinator Jessica Perez, who has organized two bike workshops so far.

The workshops are financed with the Every Child Grant, a three-year grant with over $2 million from the Active Transportation program, as part of the Health Department’s Safe Routes to Schools initiative.

One of the reasons the workshops have been in South County is because for many in that area, bikes are their primary mode of transportation. Lupe Covarrubias-Martinez, a chronic disease prevention specialist and bike safety instructor, says there aren’t bike repair shops nearby, and the repairs can be expensive. “This is an easy way to be active,” Covarrubias-Martinez says.

Perez rode bikes as kids with her brothers, and she learned to repair her bike herself using spare parts. The workshops, she says, “get them into being able to work independently with their hands, learn about different tools that they can then use around the house.”

In addition to maintenance skills like changing a tire and lubricating the bike’s chain, kids also learn about how to be a responsible rider: check their bikes, wear a helmet properly and wear bright colors. “They want to get out and we want to make sure that they are getting out and they are doing it safely,” Covarrubias-Martinez says.

From a pile of bikes that were either donated or salvaged from the landfill, kids can choose one of their liking, repair it, paint it or even build a light for it. Gabrielson says kids approach it with a short-term vision, but he sees something longer lasting, and related to the nonprofit science workshop’s mission. “The kid has a single goal, which is to make the bicycle work,” he says. “I want them to learn all these different skills and how to use these tools and how these different materials have different characteristics to make the bike do what it does.”

At the Feb. 6 workshop, 11-year-old Erik Guzman chose a bike from a range of models on wooden bike racks; it needed a barrel replacement to make it rideable. After working for over two hours with Omar Vigil, a GCSW technician, to clean the bike’s hub, change the barrel and putting on the wheels, chain and pedals, Guzman made a fist as he peddled back home.

Two years ago, Guzman’s old bike was stolen, and he hasn’t had one since. He was happy to get on this new one, and says it will be fun to get out socially: “I can ride it with my friends,” he says.

So far, the Health Department has hosted two Greenfield bike repair workshops. Dozens of kids have shown up to repair their own bikes, and 80 have picked out new bikes and gotten them into working order. The Health Department is preparing for a third workshop.

Perez says they are applying for other grants to possibly expand these workshops to other cities, and hopes to expand to offer them at schools and in the community at large.

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