If you can’t afford a new bicycle in Burlington, Vt., you are not out of luck. A local company called Bike Recycle Vermont refurbishes bikes for financially strapped people, helping ensure that anyone who wishes to be mobile on two wheels can be. This summer Sierra Frisbie ’15 is interning at BRV. To support her living expenses, she has a grant from the Preston Public Interest Career Fund, which supports Bowdoin students who want to work for an organization that serves economically underdeveloped areas. Frisbie recently responded to questions about her summer experience, and pointed people to a resource for similar organizations in their own area.
Bowdoin Daily Sun: Can you briefly describe Bike Recycle Vermont?
Sierra Frisbie: Bike Recycle Vermont is a Burlington-based organization that makes bikes available for low-income Vermonters. BRV was started by Ron Manganiello. He fixed up an old bike for a Somalian friend who had recently come to the area and whom he knew could benefit from a pair of wheels. He began fixing up more bikes in his backyard when he saw a need in the community. Once Ron saw an opportunity for the shop to grow beyond his personal capacity, he created BRV.
Unwanted or abandoned bikes are donated to the shop, and volunteer mechanics restore them to usable condition. After they’re fixed up, they’re sold to income-eligible customers at a steeply discounted price. …Customers come from a wide variety of backgrounds: old and young, single people or families. Some people were recently incarcerated and others have just hit a rough patch. There is a relatively large refugee settlement program in Burlington, so we get to hear many languages in the shop! BRV provides a profoundly unique opportunity for valuable community interface. Every day, there are patrons, volunteers and donors having the chance to interact in ways they might not otherwise.
BDS: What prior experiences — at Bowdoin or elsewhere — helped prepare you for your internship?
SF: One summer I volunteered with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, which gave me some skills in communicating with those who speak English as a second language. I’ve also been a part-time waitress for about three years while in high school and college. Sounds strange, but that actually prepared me for the fast-paced environment that is BRV. Getting through a busy afternoon of bike repair and customer service is a lot like getting through the dinner rush! I spent last summer working on a ranch in Wyoming, which really taught me to be patient with myself. Being on the ranch helped me learn to just slow down and work through things. I’ve had to learn so much about bike mechanics in the past month, and it’s a lot like learning how to drive stick shift, milk a cow or set up irrigation pipes. You just have to do it over and over again…one step at a time.
In a small way, [Bike Recycle Vermont] is depoliticizing something that is often seen as “green” or exclusively for the upper/middle class.”
—Sierra Frisbie ’15
BDS: What’s an average day at BRV like for you?
SF: Every day is really different. I usually come in and start working on a repair. I throw the bike up in the stand and run through it start to finish. Some days, if a bike is in really bad shape, I work on it all day. Throughout the day, I’m greeting customers at the door, selling bikes and running around the shop. Depending on who comes in the door, and how many people stop by, the shop can be quiet and relaxing, or buzzing and a little bit stressful!
Beyond being present for afternoon shop hours, I work on odds and ends throughout the week. On Wednesday nights, I join in on “Make Stuff Night,” which is basically just like it sounds. We use this time to make all our products for Bike Recycle Designs. We sell these at various shops around the area and at the Burlington Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. We have a lot of super talented volunteers who come and make really awesome stuff: bracelets out of spokes, belts and earrings out of inner tubes, bottle openers out of gears, etc. All the profits from Bike Recycle Design sales go back to funding the shop.
BDS: What do you think you are uniquely contributing to the organization this summer?
SF: [One of the projects I am working on this summer besides helping run the shop is] I am developing a youth program. We are coordinating with the Boys and Girls Club of Vermont to create a Youth Bike Club that meets weekly to learn bike mechanic skills, learn safe riding practices, and go on fun rides around the area. Hannah [an AmeriCorps member] and I are also organizing evening shop hours reserved for females. Just like car garages, bike shops are traditionally male dominated. So we want to set aside some “gals only” time to try and get more ladies into the shop, covered in bike grease and having a good time.
BDS: How does this experience fit into your longer term goals?
SF: I don’t have a great idea of what I want to do professionally when I graduate, but at Bowdoin I am majoring in environmental studies and government and doing a minor in education. My position at the BRV allows me to see the inner workings of a nonprofit and how it can create changes at a political and community level. I’m very keen on the idea of how BRV combines environmental and social interests. In a small way, it’s depoliticizing something that is often seen as “green” or exclusively for the upper/middle class. My hope is the some of the customers who purchase bikes from us continue to bike not only because they cannot afford a car, but because they come to love biking and see it as a valid, sensible form of transportation.