Get in gear

The Reno Bike Project gives bike activism a new name

Justin Silverman and Kelsey Macintosh fix a used bike for the Reno Bike Project.

Justin Silverman and Kelsey Macintosh fix a used bike for the Reno Bike Project.

Photo By David Robert

The Reno Bike Project is a work in progress, so when Noah Silverman and Kyle Kozar meet up for coffee, the talk centers on what they want to do.

These two, along with Mike Burke, who wasn’t available for an interview, founded the Reno Bike Project just a few months ago and have since gathered a lot of friends to join in.

In simple terms, they want to open a bike shop that sells used bikes made from donated parts to the public for cheap prices. As of late, they’ve been bringing volunteers to the Reno Sparks Kiwanis Bike Program Re-Cyclery, fixing bikes for kids and people in need.

One could call what they’re up to bike activism, and at first, that’s what they called it, too.

The idea of “bike activism” may best be shown by example.
Last October, a shabby San Francisco art gallery called Live Worms hosted a three-man art show/performance. Reno artists Jeff Johnson and Erik Burke (brother of Mike), were exhibiting with another artist, an older guy from Arkansas who is something of a legend among graffiti artists. His name is BuZ Blurr, aka Colossus of Roads.

The occasion was also a screening of Road to Colossus, Burke’s self-produced documentary in which he and a friend, both on bicycles, journeyed to Arkansas to meet this mythic guy, Colossus/BuZ.

The projector for the film was to be human-powered by a bicycle on a roller system that Burke rode for the entire length of the film. During one night of the exhibit, he rode his bicycle in the street-front window throughout the film, but technical problems prevented him from powering the projector as planned. His electric-generating, bike-wheel contraption instead powered a bulb, which lit up the street while the film was shown inside. It was still a graceful combination.

Events like this illuminate the idea that bikes are cool and need to be presented in ever-cooler ways if society is going to move away from its current focus on cars. Presentation, as they say, is everything. So the message people like Burke present is simple: Be cool, ride a bike.

This brings us back to the Reno Bike Project.
If this group of twentysomethings had it their way, everyone would be riding bikes right now. To bring this idea closer to reality, the group is starting to take the steps needed toward forming a nonprofit, co-op bike shop. They want it to be downtown—somewhere. A location has not yet been established, but the group has already had two fundraisers with another one on the way this weekend.

“We have about 50 to 100 donated bikes right now,” says Silverman.

“We’ll be a bike shop focused on events and affordability,” adds Kozar. “We want to be a community center of people with like-interests and lifestyles, hosting events and classes.”

This is not the community bike-type of project some larger cities have adapted where bikes are sprayed orange or yellow and put out on the street for the public to use and abuse. These programs are known by the term “yellow bike,” and in the United States, respect for these types of programs—though they may be ideal—has not yet taken hold. Community bikes have been vandalized and stolen.

A movement known as Critical Mass has also tried to promote bikes and alternative means of transportation. It involves sometimes hundreds of bikes on the streets of hundreds of cities from San Francisco to Sydney.

Those who’ve been to Burning Man may be aware of a similar effort known as Critical Tits where a thousand nude or topless women ride across Black Rock City on their bicycles to raise, um, the awareness of onlookers, you know, for bikes.

Critical Mass originated in 1992 and promotes the same thing but with the riders clothed—usually. Demonstrators participating in the group-rides have caused much curiosity but also scorn for being part of a pack of bicycles in the streets at once causing interruption or worse to car traffic.

With the intent to fix the old and sell it cheap, from left, Avi Johnson, Matt Sala and Kyle Kozar work on a bike.

Photo By David Robert

Riders in Reno have partaken in Critical Mass-style rides, and RBP’s site does mention these rides through town. But the guys would like to leave behind the “bike activism” label when actions like Critical Mass have given the term negative connotations.

“You have to take a non-aggressive role to promote your ideal,” says Kozar. Later, Silverman mentions the heavily-bicycled Jerusalem he visited last year in April, saying it struck him as “very law-biding.”

After talking briefly about Critical Mass, Silverman and Kozar agree that “Bike advocacy,” is the better term for them to use.

Shop talk
Rich Staley owns a bike shop called Great Basin Bicycles. Randy Collins owns College Cyclery. Both men and are long established locally in the business of selling bikes.

“I’m not a proponent of how they go about it,” says Staley of Critical Mass. “There’s a law stating that riders must stay no more than two-abreast in bike lanes. Also, riding on the sidewalk is illegal.”

Some of Staley’s comments center more on money. “Reno’s gas prices are the highest in the country,” he says, interrupting himself to prove his statement from information on AAA’s Web site. He points out that due to the elevated gas prices, “people have less disposable income, and that cuts into bike sales.”

He mentions how much money people can save riding bikes and the potential of better public transit systems and bike lanes across the Truckee Meadows, especially between the north and south ends of the city.

Collins agrees with Staley about connecting the valley with public transit and clean, direct bike lanes. But he warns of liability issues for the Reno Bike Project concerning used bike parts and the public, especially the “fixed gear” type of bike that uses only the chain gear to stop a rider rather than brakes.

Collins also mentions the diverse nature of the biking public. “The bike shop industry deals with the widest demographic. It’s not just one group. It’s enthusiasts, recreational cyclists, and commuters—young and old.” This non-profit group-to-be will have to accept “the whole bike community.” He then puts it another way: “Open-source.”

To gain wide trust from the public, the Reno Bike Project may have to decide with whom it wants to be associated or redefine the words “bike activism.”

More for bike activists and advocates

Bike Art Show, curated by Erik Burke, is a benefit for the Reno Bike Project. It’s Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at Never Ender Gallery, 515 W. Second St. For more information, see Renobikeproject.blogspot.com.

• The Reno Sparks Kiwanis Bike Program Re-Cyclery is just north of the UNR campus at 2605 Comstock Dr.

• We know you’re an informed citizen, but just in case, check out the Regional Transportation Plan at www.rtcwashoe.com/planning/rtc2030update.

• Bikes are healthy unless you’re hit by a truck. Here are some biking safety tips: www.remsa-cf.com/Rresponds/RR2004/RR062804a.html

• See the bliss that is and could be as progress is made on the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway: www.tpbikeway.org.