Conversations about how to lower your carbon footprint often revolve around solar power and wind power. Transportation emissions are also significant. A big part of the solution there is pedal power.
Visions of a carbon-free society tend to imagine a future with fewer cars and far more bicycles, along with infrastructure to match. But in rural states like Vermont and New Hampshire, potential riders often have to endure long automobile trips simply to get to the nearest bike shop – an irony especially acute for those who, for environmental reasons, prefer not to use one.
Fortunately, in some of New England’s small towns, bike lovers and entrepreneurs have perceived the need for local options – particularly amid a rise in interest in cycling since the start of Covid-19 – and have taken action to make them available.
One example is the BF Community Bike Project in Bellows Falls, Vermont.
Bonnie Anderson founded the organization – a retail store, repair shop, and community center – eight years ago in the Windham County village, where the next closest bike shop involves a trip up or down I-91, not to mention an interstate crossing over the Connecticut River. Efforts to supply Burlington’s refugee community with bikes through Bike Recycle Vermont, which would later become the 501c3 Old Spokes Home, provided an inspiration for Anderson’s own nonprofit.
The BF Community Bike Project specializes in matching low-income Vermonters with bicycles, but because it’s the only bike shop in town, it serves people of any income level. Some of the adult bikes cost as little as $80, but there’s as much variety in the stock as there is in the clientele.
“Over the years we’ve gotten some much higher-end bikes donated, and we price them accordingly,” Anderson said, noting a few special occasions where price tags have exceeded $1,000, raising funds that help keep the other bikes – all of them used – affordable.
In some cases, real affordability means giving the bikes away for free, or in exchange for volunteer hours.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” Anderson emphasized. “If they can’t afford a bike, we work with them on whatever they can do. And we have given away a lot of bikes. With our annual appeal, where we send out a mailing to raise money, we give people the option to sponsor bikes, so that way people know their money is going to help someone get a bike or bike repair.”
In addition to personal wellness and social justice, the Community Bike Project’s mission emphasizes environmentalism. Many of its reclaimed bikes might have otherwise ended up in landfills, and whenever donations can’t be refurbished to a high enough standard, mechanics strip them for usable parts.
“People come looking for parts that they just can’t get, and we’re often able to provide parts that people need to do their own repairs,” Anderson explained. And when they don’t know how to do repairs, the Community Bike Project aims to teach them.
While most of the organization’s indoor programming – including its repair classes and its open shop, which provides space and tools for do-it-yourself jobs – has been on hold since the start of the pandemic, other initiatives have continued. Over the summer, kids from a nearby youth organization met at the storefront weekly for a group ride. And through the Duet Wheelchair Bike Program, volunteers have provided trips to the local farmers market and scenic riverside rides for seniors and people with mobility challenges, using a special bicycle that hooks to the back of wheelchair.
The bike shop is still going strong, but customers are asked to make appointments in advance.
Fifty miles upriver, another Vermont town, Fairlee, now has a bike shop to call its own. Owner-operator Sarah Pushee opened Red Clover Bikes on the village green in June this year.
Pushee worked in a bike shop in Hanover after college, until 2003, and over the course of a subsequent career in the heating and plumbing industry, she never forgot the experience. A Thetford native, she also recognized the dearth of bike shops in the mid-Upper Valley.
“You shouldn’t have to drive 45 minutes to an hour to get your bike fixed,” she said.
Opening during the pandemic wasn’t easy. Supply chain problems limited her inventory to kids’ bikes and e-bikes, plus parts and accessories.
Fortunately, from the beginning, Pushee was more intent on repairing bikes than selling new ones. “Selling bikes is a big part of my business, but the primary goal here is to keep people on bikes functioning well,” she clarified.
Plenty of locals have taken advantage. “This has long been a desert. You either had to go to Lebanon or Littleton or Barre or Plymouth to get a bike serviced. And when a bike shop opens, there’s going to be a significant amount of people who’ve got a bike that’s been parked for a long time, because it needs a minor repair and traveling a long distance to get it repaired is kind of a hassle or not a priority,” Pushee observed.
Along with her part-time employees, Pushee does much of the mechanical work herself. She finds it gratifying. When she changes a flat tire, she takes care to recycle or reuse the tube.
“I think it’s really important to keep people’s equipment functioning and to be on top of what it takes to fix something and how to source the parts and, rather than just throw a new part on something, to have really troubleshot something,” she explained. “People form an attachment to their bicycle, and they want to repair it rather than replace it. It’s an investment.”
Another brand-new shop is Pedego Electric Bikes in Salem, New Hampshire. Nationwide, more than 180 locally owned dealerships sell Pedego’s line of twenty e-bikes, but the Salem location, whose ribbon-cutting took place in May 2021, marks the first in the Merrimack Valley.
Owner Rachel Higginbottom has a background in healthcare and exercise physiology. “I taught spinning for 25 years, and I’ve worked in orthopedics, and I came to the realization that these bikes are perfect for patients that have had knee replacements, hip replacements, and spine surgery,” she said.
In addition to offering new recreational opportunities to riders with injuries and infirmities, the California-based brand markets five of its models to commuters. Overall, prices range from $1,895 to $5,000.
“It’s less than people think,” Higginbottom commented. “All bikes come with a five-year warranty, the best in the industry,” according to Higginbottom, “and can be delivered for a nominal fee.”
Moreover, customers can expect “white-glove concierge service” for any repairs. “You bring the bike in, it’s done within five days, if not that day. Most bike stores, there’s a six-week wait,” Higginbottom pointed out.
Located on the Salem, NH rail trail, the store also offers rentals by the day or hour, with eight bikes in its rental fleet. Fall is a popular time for riders on the trail.
“We’re running a bunch of foliage specials,” Higginbottom noted. Customers can call the shop for custom tours.
Brett Yates is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times. He lives in Mendon, Vermont.
Recycling Bike Tire Tubes
A tip from Sarah Pushee, owner of Red Clover Bikes in Fairlee, Vermont:
Enough bicycle tubes are put in landfills each year to fill the Eiffel tower at least seven times over.
Please recycle your bicycle tire tubes. Some helpful tube recycling links where used tubes are accepted are:
Tannus Tires accepts tubes to be recycled through bike repair shops. Learn more at www.tannusamerica.com/tube-recycling
Alchemy Goods makes products out of recycled bike tubes www.alchemygoods.com.
Please note that slime self-sealing tubes are not recyclable: www.shop.slime.com/self-sealing-bike-tubes.