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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 10:48 am

Cooking up a Bike Kitchen

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Neighborhoods in transition are often fertile grounds for new ideas. In the near future, the Enos Park neighborhood will become home to Springfield’s only community bike shop. Organized by local master mechanic and bike builder Robert LaBonte and a growing network of donors and volunteers, the Springfield Bike Kitchen will help assure that every cyclist in Springfield has the opportunity to ride a safe bike.

The Bike Kitchen will empower cyclists to repair their own bicycles by offering low-cost parts and access to bike stands, workbenches, tools and volunteer mechanics who can provide technical assistance.

Like the Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign and other community bike shops around the world, the Springfield Bike Kitchen accepts donated bikes, which then are either repaired for resale or broken down for parts. Used parts are placed in bins where they can be purchased by Bike Kitchen customers. Some new parts will be available at discount prices.

Bike Kitchen customers will pay a small fee for single-day access to the shop or can purchase a membership to the Bike Kitchen. However, no one with a true desire to repair and ride their bicycle will be turned away from the Bike Kitchen. Cyclists who are unable to afford shop fees will have an opportunity to serve volunteer hours to defray the cost of parts and shop use.  

In addition to helping adults who use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation, LaBonte envisions mechanical apprenticeships and build-a-bike programs for at-risk youth. LaBonte, who recently began to build bamboo bikes and who enjoys the challenge of creating bikes to meet the needs of people with disabilities, hopes these programs will encourage youngsters to learn that “solving problems takes awhile; the impossible just takes a little longer.” LaBonte and his volunteers are in the process of identifying local social services organizations interested in developing programs with the Springfield Bike Kitchen.

According to LaBonte, the Springfield Bicycle Club, local bike shops and the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association have all been supportive.

Local volunteers and donors are responding as well. In spite of snow, more than a dozen Springfield residents attended a recent organizational meeting for the Bike Kitchen. By the end of the evening, attendees had volunteered to help build workbenches and install lighting in the 1890s carriage house that will soon become a working bike shop.

While many hands make light work, used bicycles, cash and tool donations are still necessary to successfully launch the Springfield Bike Kitchen, expected to open in May. LaBonte offers the following “wish list” for the Bike Kitchen: Drill press, bench grinder, angle grinder, several bench vises, portable bike repair stands, shelving for used parts, plastic tubs and storage bins for used parts, a small cash register, hand tools, wrenches, electric drills and bits. Individuals interested in volunteering or making a donation may contact Robert LaBonte at 217-836-8387. To learn more about the Springfield Bike Kitchen, visit http://springfieldbikekitchen.wordpress.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/pages/Spri-ngfield-Bike-Kitchen/110906875704536.

Contact Grace Sweatt at writtenbygrace@yahoo.com.

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