SOUTHERN OHIO: Franklinton CycleWorks offers self-sufficiency, transportation

June 22, 2010

As petroleum poisons the Gulf and President Barack Obama challenges Americans to overcome their addiction to fossil fuels, an intentional Christian community has won a victory for people-powered transportation in inner-city Columbus.

The Christian communitarians -- young people who worship at St. John's Episcopal Church in an urban Appalachian neighborhood called Franklinton in the Diocese of Southern Ohio -- received a $6,000 United Way grant to equip a workshop where neighbors can learn the art of bicycle repair and, by volunteering, earn a bike of their own.

The seeds for this practical plan for transportation self-sufficiency took root when a handful of Christians in their 20s pooled resources to buy a house remodeled by the Franklinton Development Association.

All the members were raised in upper-middle class, suburban homes, but they have moved to this low-income neighborhood in response to a deep call to follow the Gospel by living into the ancient Christian disciplines of simplicity, hospitality and service. That starts with taking plenty of time to listen to the concerns of their neighbors.

"When we first moved to Franklinton, our initial outreach was to the homeless," said Jonathan Youngman, part of the fledgling community (which has no formal name) and a vestry member of St. John's. "They were talking to us about bicycles because they can't afford bus fare, and the bus service to this neighborhood is so irregular.

"Three of us -- Greg Lanham, Jonathan Ryder, and I -- are really into bikes so we were intrigued. We looked around to see if this need extended beyond the homeless," Youngman said. The three soon discovered that many people in Franklinton depend on bicycles for transportation but ride unsafe, undependable bicycles because they do not have the resources to maintain them. Additionally, children aimlessly bike the streets without helmets or even brakes.

"Franklinton needs a Jubilee-minded bike shop that caters to the poor and cares more about the people it serves than turning a profit," he added. And so two years ago, Lanham, Ryder and Youngman launched Franklinton CycleWorks to repair and provide bikes to the neighborhood. All the bikes are recycled, modeling the habits of repair and reuse and greatly reducing the cost and environmental impact of producing safe, dependable bikes.

Another member of the intentional community, Patrick Kaufman, spearheaded a neighborhood garden project and hopes to organize canning and cooking classes as residents begin harvesting.

"Franklinton is a food desert," Youngman explained. "There is no grocery store here, nothing but convenience stores with chips and pop on the shelves. A lot of people don't have the transportation to get out of the neighborhood to buy nourishing foods. Many people here come from rural Appalachia. This opportunity to raise a garden is a direct link to their roots."

For those times when bike owners need to shop, Kaufman designed a simple bike trailer that can carry up to 200 pounds and sells for only $249. He can manufacture these as needed.

Youngman particularly wants to teach bike repair to children but the warehouse where Franklinton CycleWorks opened is too hazardous. This spring the bike co-op was offered the first floor of a house in a solidly residential part of Franklinton. The United Way grant will cover most of the costs needed to set up an efficient, safe bike repair workshop. Starting with a volunteer day June 26, the Christian bike mechanics and friends and neighbors will paint, build work stations and install shelving in the shop.

Youngman calls the new workshop a "bike kitchen" and it will truly be a space owned by the neighborhood.

"The shop space, stands, and tools are available free of charge for anyone who wants to work on their bike," he said. "Volunteer mechanics are on hand to share their knowledge and experience, but the patron does the work. Ideally, a bike co-op has anything anyone could need to repair their bicycle. After basic mechanic training, anyone can volunteer to assist patrons of the shop. It's a cooperative neighborhood effort because neighbors are literally teaching each other the art of bicycle repair.

"Through volunteering, patrons earn shop credit which can be used to buy used and new bicycle components available at our co-op. This model makes it possible for someone to own a quality bicycle without spending a dime."

While equipping neighbors to be self-sufficient and exercise good environmental stewardship, "we hope to create a sense of ownership in the neighborhood while breaking down barriers between various people groups," said Youngman.

Franklinton CycleWorks "will not only operate as a bike kitchen but will also offer classes on bike safety and repair and host monthly volunteer nights in which people from the neighborhood will come together around the common interest of bicycles. It is our belief that, with time, the model of restoration and community cooperation will diffuse into the social fabric of Franklinton."