Near South Community Bike Kitchen Looks to Teach Bikers, Repair Their Rides and Take the Exclusivity out of Lincoln's Bike Culture
By Hilary Stohs-Krause
When Pepe Fierro first moved to Lincoln, he was living in his car. To save money on gas, he used a bike for transportation -- a bike he built himself from pieces he found in the alleys and on the streets.
Flash forward several years, and Fierro is the owner of the popular Pepe's Veggie Mex Bistro, 6220 Havelock Avenue -- but even after he started his own business, he kept building bikes from spare parts.
After a while, he started running out of room for all the tires, tubes, pedals and frames he'd collected. He needed more storage space.
Seven miles away in the Near South neighborhood, green activists and avid bikers Bob and Carol Smith had a two-bedroom house sitting empty.
"They stepped in and said, 'Use it as long as you want for whatever you want,'" Fierro recalled.
Located at 1720 S. 15th St. in a white house with a bike wheel sculpture out front, the Near South Community Bike Kitchen trades repairs for volunteer work. Brakes need tightening? Handlebars are crooked? Stop on in.
Staffed by volunteers, the six-week-old kitchen is open from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays, though they're looking to extend their hours to Mondays, as well.
During Nov. 14th's hours, a mother and her son and daughter came to get the tires on the girl's bike inflated, and Lindsay Graef walked in looking for bike pedals -- hers had been stolen.
In exchange for her the new parts, Pepe put Graef to work patching and labeling tire tubes.
Mariel Harding dropped by for a "minor overhaul" of her bike, including brake and gear issues. Instead of doing it for her, volunteer Zach T. walked her through the repairs, step by step.
"That's part of the community bike shop," he said. "People have to have a place they can go and learn.."
He and fellow volunteer Aaron Lawless spoke of the difficulty people can face when seeking repairs at Lincoln's bike shops -- especially if their bikes are cheap.
"What I see going on in Lincoln's bike culture is a lot of ... not exclusivity, but pretentiousness," Zach T. said. "People have gone into bike shops and been told that their bikes aren't good enough to repair. ... It's classism."
The bike kitchen isn't sure if it plans to apply for non-profit status, but either way, no money is exchanged.
The first bike the shop completed went to a 16-year-old student named Nathaniel, who was faced with the prospect of quitting football because he didn't have transportation to his south side home after practice at his north side school, and he couldn't afford a bike.
Lawless, who served a tour in Iraq in the U.S. military, worked nonstop to finish the athlete's bike as a testament to a friend and fellow soldier killed in Iraq, also named Nathaniel.
"When Pepe told me the kid's name and story, I knew this was my opportunity to help someone out, and put Nathaniel's memory to rest," he wrote in a Facebook note. "All of this was made possible by the many donations we received from the community. So thank you very much. For Nathaniel, in memory of."
"This community is so connected, people just don't realize," he said. "It just takes a little effort to make things happen."
The bike shop accepts all donations; currently, they're looking for bike tools, chains, tires, tubes and cables.
"If it's absolutely beyond repair, we'll try to make art out of it," Fierro said with a smile, pointing to a longhorn skull he made from rusty bike parts. "Old tires, I make belts out of those that last forever. Tubes can be weaved to make door mats, or hammocks, or bracelets. ... We'll take anything."
And if any artists are looking for rusty metal parts, he said, stop on by.
"The community helped me out when I was homeless," Fierro said. "This is my way of paying the community back. It's like we're all one bicycle chain, and we need to link together to make it work."