A new bike co-op opened its doors yesterday at the Seymour Family Center (formerly Mulhall elementary school) in El Monte. Sponsored by BikeSGV, the local bike advocacy organization, the “Bike Education Center” (BEC) provides the members of the community a space (for a nominal fee) to work on their own bikes, learn bike repair, and even rent bikes. There will also be regular bike safety classes taught by local LCIs (League Certified Instructors). I’ve been calling for more bike co-ops for years, and it is especially gratifying to see this one finally come to fruition. Aside from the CalTech Bike Lab (open only to students, faculty and staff at CalTech), it is only the second bike co-op in the San Gabriel Valley. Bike co-ops can be great spaces not only for wrenching and education, but for bike community organizing, advocacy, and activism.
The BEC fills a very great need in El Monte, a working-class community that has a large proportion of people who depend on bikes for transportation. Riding the bus or my bike in and around El Monte, I’m constantly struck by the fact that it really is “bike city USA” if you look at all of the people riding utilitarian bikes for transportation, carrying their groceries or work gear with them. Many of these individuals are immigrants or people of color and their bikes are their means of transport. Further, with El Monte’s main transit hub, the El Monte bus station, nearby, the bike/transit transportation connection is very strong in this city. Sadly, El Monte has very few (read: almost none) streets with bike lanes. As a result, you’ll see a lot of people sidewalk riding. I sometimes do likewise for a stressful portion of my commute on Lower Azusa Ave. near the Rio Hondo bike path.
I hope the BEC becomes a place where this often “invisible” segment of the bicycling community can begin to make its voice heard in City Hall to demand better bike infrastructure in and around El Monte. I think BikeSGV is doing a great job of outreach to youth and families in the area. In addition, I expect to see some bike wrenching workshops and safety classes offered in Spanish, and I’d love to see them offered (and run) by women, too. Perhaps BikeSGV can set up a monthly wrenching event run by its WoW (Women on Wheels) group. Bike repair and maintenance in most bike shops is too male-dominated, but the bike itself can be a tool of empowerment for women. Making the BEC a place where women feel comfortable working on their own bikes can be a very liberating function. With outreach efforts in these directions, the BEC could become a place of community engagement and empowerment.
There was fairly good media coverage of the BEC grand opening on the local ABC news and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. And, while it may be petty to quibble about media coverage, I was disappointed that the editors at the Tribune filed Brian Day’s story under “Sports.” This isn’t the first time Tribune editors have been tone deaf when it comes to transportational bicycling. It’s ill-conceived “summer of cycling” series a couple of years ago seemed designed to highlight the editors’ assumptions that bikes weren’t a viable mode of transportation more than anything else. Ironically, this very same weekend, the California Bicycle Coalition is holding its annual statewide bike summit, where the theme is “equity” in the bike movement. The connection between bicycling and social and environmental justice are now coming to the forefront for many of us who advocate for bikes as transportation.
A question for Tribune editors: why wasn’t this categorized as local news or transportation? Categorizing a story about a community bike co-op as a “sports” story reflects the middle-class bias of the paper’s editors and misses one of the main reasons for the bike co-op. Look at the location of the event, in El Monte, less than a mile from the El Monte bus station, where the overwhelming majority of people on bikes on a daily basis are not lycra-clad racers. There were a few folks in lycra at the grand opening, but overwhelmingly these were just regular folks who want to ride their bikes for a variety of reasons. Categorizing the story as “sports” ignores the fact that speakers at the event referenced the need for more bike lanes in the area, and more riparian bike paths for, as Bike SGV’s Wes Reutimann put it, “getting around the San Gabriel Valley by bike.” Indeed, one of the main sponsors of the BEC is Dahon Bikes, a company that specializes in folding bicycles, particularly useful in conjunction with transit (a point explicitly made by the Dahon representative at the event). It ignores the fact that the vast majority of old bikes donated to the BEC are utilitarian bikes, not racing bikes.
I hate it when the media’s myopic view of cycling pushes us all into the “recreation/sports” stereotype. The Tribune should know better. Cities all over the SGV are gradually waking up to the importance of connecting people to the Gold Line by bike. Pasadena itself will soon be getting new bike infrastructure as part of its updated MOBILITY plan (not, “sports” plan).
Wake up, Tribune. The bicycle is much more than just a recreational toy. Quit treating it like it’s no different than a surfboard or a pair of skis. It is a means of transportation, one that, especially in conjunction with transit, can replace a lot of car trips, reduce congestion, air pollution, society’s carbon footprint, and make our cities more livable and people healthier. It’s cheap, equitable, healthy, sustainable, liberating, and empowering.
That’s the real beauty of bikes—and of El Monte’s new Bike Education Center.