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Working Bikes: Giving Old Bikes New Homes

Updated: May 24

The motto for Working Bikes is giving old bikes new homes, and that's exactly what they do.. Since 1999 they have redistributed more than 50,000 used bikes worldwide to individuals in developing countries as well as disadvantaged individuals in Chicago.

At the Illinois Bike Summit last week, I met with Manager Paul Fitzgerald and Staff Mechanic Caesar Mesa to learn more about this incredible organization.

Paul Fitzgerald (left) and Caesar Mesa

What is Working Bikes?

It is a non-profit organization located on the south side of Chicago where our mission is to give old bikes new homes. Bikes are donated to us and shipped overseas. We send about 500 bikes per month. Annually, we ship about 6000 bikes to our partners in El Salvador, Africa and the Caribbean.

We also donate locally as well, largely to folks in transitional housing, people new to Chicago through refugee programs, or individuals in rehabilitation programs. Overall, we are serving bike commuters both locally and internationally.

How did Working Bikes get started?

Our founders are Lee Ravenscroft and his wife Amy Little. Lee spent a lot of time in Nicaragua during the mid-80's are part of the Solidarity movement. After coming back to Chicago, he realized that the scrap trucks in Chicago were paying $3 for bikes so he started buying bikes for $5, fixing them and reselling the bikes to students at UIC. With the proceeds, he paid for the first shipment of bikes to Nicaragua.

How did each of you become involved in Working Bikes?

Caesar - I ended up at the shop because one of my former high school classmates was volunteering. I had a flat tire and didn't have the resources or knowledge to fix it. My friend took me to Working Bikes and introduced me to the staff. Eventually I returned and became a regular volunteer myself. Later, in participated in the One Summer Chicago program and learn bike mechanic skills. . Eventually, I improved my skills and am now a staff mechanic. Through Paul I also met the people at West Town Bikes and participate in the Cyclo-cross program and help with volunteer sessions on building bikes.

Paul - I first became aware of Working Bikes when I was a student at University of Illinois Chicago in 2001.. I was commuting to campus and someone had taped a flyer to handlebars saying Giant Humanitarian Bike sale.. I was curious and later I started volunteering occasionally at the shop.

In 2010, I was teaching Youth Bicycle programs at West Town Bikes and Working Bikes was interested in finding someone to teach a class for volunteers From there I stated as a mechanic, and then later helped to start the Service Dept. and am now the manager.

How can someone donate a bike?

​Working Bikes accepts donations of used bikes, bike parts and accessories. You can find a list of drop-off locations in the Chicago area. You can also bring them into our shop. If you have a larger number of bikes we can send out a truck to pick them up.

What are the future plans?

We are working on a partner exchange in Mexico. Last year we improved our bike refurbishment program to ensure we have a enough bikes to do the work we'd like to do. Now we are formalizing our volunteer program to ensure we are reaching the undeserved in Chicago and creating a safe space for everyone, including commuters and working cyclists.. Our volunteers are more experienced bikers and we want to reach the less experienced cyclists.

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