816 Bicycle Collective offers affordable transportation options

The 816 Bicycle Collective is open each Thursday and Saturday to help people like Al Smith with free bicycles they can use for transportation. The collective currently operates out of a cramped space at 31st and Forrest, but kicks off a fundraiser this week to renovate a new building location at 3081 Cherry.

On a muggy hot Saturday afternoon, a dozen people are working on their bicycles in a cramped dungeon-like space at 31st and Forest.

Others toss bikes up on stands outside to adjust brakes or mess around with chains.

When the 816 Bicycle Collective is open for business (Thursday and Saturday afternoons), cyclists come from all over to work on their bikes.

But these cyclists are often a little different from the stereotypical weekend riders.

For instance, last Saturday one of those helping others with bike problems was 52-year-old Al Smith.

Smith first encountered the 816 Collective last October, when he was homeless and didn’t have a car or even bus fare.

The collective hooked him up with a free bike and a place to work on it when necessary. It also made tools and parts available so he could learn to keep the bike running.

He now rides 8 to 10 miles a week, looking for work and getting where he needs to go.

Smith says he always had the latest bike as a kid, rattling off the names of Schwinns of his past.

“I feel great. Its even helped me cut down on cigarettes.”

Now that he’s been reunited with biking, Smith is a regular at the 816 Bicycle Collective, where he enjoys helping other people build and repair the bikes they count on for transportation around Kansas City.

The 816 Collaborative has recently been surveying the folks it helps, and has found that 87 percent are below the poverty line and 48 percent commute more than 15 miles a day – by bike.

The group’s volunteer work force has collected and distributed 900 bikes since it started five years ago.

This week, the collective is launching a fundraising campaign, hoping to raise $82,816 to rehab three buildings it owns at 3081 Cherry. The fundraising gets started at 7 p.m. Wednesday, August 14 at the Mattie Rhodes center, 919 W. 17th St. There will also be a campaign on Neighbor.ly.

Tomorrow, more about the 816 Bicycle Collective and its mission to empower people while providing sustainable transportation.