For Zac Holford, learning how to fix bicycles is much more than just mechanics.
It's a way to foster community development.
"Cycling is a very popular thing in that everyone in the population has a bicycle story, remembers when they had a bike (or) has had problems with bikes," said Mr. Holford, 25.
"But its price of entry is often out of the means of a lot of people," he added.
To make bicycles more affordable, the South Carolina native decided to implement an idea he first saw in Memphis - a bike cooperative where, for $50 a year and 10 hours of volunteer work, people can build their own bikes or overhaul ones they already have.
Last week, the co-op opened its new location inside the St. Andrews Center in the Highland Park area. There's a workshop and a storage room in the basement. It's full of racked bicycles, wheels and boxes of chain rings, pedals and stems.
"Our main goal is to get as many educated cyclists on the road as we can with a real working knowledge of their bicycle," Mr. Holford said. "With a bike and the bus system in this city, you can get anywhere you need to go cheaply and reliably."
The group also wants to reach out to area Hispanics, he said, especially those who can't drive.
HOW IT WORKS* For $50 and 10 hours of volunteer work a year, Main Street Bicycle Co-op members can get their bikes overhauled or get parts to build their own bicycles.* Members can access the workshop, learn to use the tools and buy bike parts at a special price.* The public can get bikes assessed at no charge during co-op hours, 4-8 p.m. Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.* For more information, call Zac Holford at 423-987-1060, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.mainstreetbikecoop.com (under construction).
The Main Street Bike Co-op also is collecting bikes, with plans to repair and give them away in August to about 20 area children who will be found through community organizations, Mr. Holford said.
Derek Williams joined the co-op several months ago when it was in its original location off Main Street.
"I basically rebuilt (my bike) by hand with Zac's guidance, and that feels really good," said the 34-year-old University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student who's majoring in computer science applications.
"Not only because it's going to incorporate the exercise aspect, (and) the transportation aspect with reduced gas usage, but that we took a nonworking bicycle and basically rehabbed it and (refurbished) it from the ground up into a useful vehicle," he said.
The co-op partners with local bicycle shops, where people can donate bicycles or parts, and with the Community Foundation, which established an account for the co-op to raise funds.
The St. Andrews Center is an organization and building that houses other nonprofit groups and educational programs.
"Having a presence of the bike co-op in the Highland Park area offers the opportunity for our neighbors to become more involved in their community by participating in weekly community bike-ride events," said Michelle Hayes, director of operations for the St. Andrews Center.
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