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Grand Rapids non-profit wants more people in poorer communities to have reliable bikes worth riding

May 25, 2017

The Next Idea

Imagine cyclists, and there’s an image that might come to mind of people wearing Spandex pants and helmets out for a ride on country roads; or maybe of someone riding through the city on their way to work or the grocery store.

There is an economic and sometimes racial gap between those two cycling worlds.

The Spoke Folks is a Grand Rapids non-profit working to give people in disenfranchised communities a way to keep their bikes working and in good shape through knowledge, tools and fellowship.

Martel Posey is the community outreach director for The Spoke Folks.

“I would love for everyone to have access to [an] affordable and reliable bike,” Posey said. “Access to the knowledge, and, that feel-good feeling about going into an organization knowing they’re not trying to capitalize off you.”

Posey says The Spoke Folks get a lot of regular customers, including adults who rely on bikes for transportation to work. Sometimes when bikes are donated to poorer communities, they are often in some state of disrepair, according to Posey. He says his goal is to get more people on solid, reliable bikes, and The Spoke Folks gives them a place where people can turn to keep their bikes properly maintained.

“We get so many people… who are nervous to come into the space because they don’t know the level of help we’re going to give them,” Posey said. “They think that maybe we’re just going to be another space that is trying to make a quick buck off of them.”

“We are here to help,” Posey said. “We just want your bike to work well."

The Spoke Folks also runs a mobile repair truck that rolls through neighborhoods hoping to help people who tend stay away from bikes still keep their bikes properly maintained. 

Posey explains he grew up in a single-parent home, and knows people in disenfranchised communities who do not keep their bikes maintained, simply because they cannot afford to. He wrote about it in an article for the Rapidian, "Why poor people don't go to bike shops." 

Posey says even when it comes to helping with straightforward fixes – replacing a tire’s inner tube, fixing cables or brakes – people often say they don’t go to bike shops because of the expense. 

The Spoke Folks has been open for five years. Posey says they're building trust with people in the community. He says anyone with a bike can come to The Spoke Folks shop for $5 per visit and get access to tools and expertise to make repairs. Or, a membership to The Spoke Folks grants unlimited access to the shop for a year.

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