Bicycles as a teaching tool: new programming at the Bicycle Commons

Bicycles as a Teaching Tool 
Bike mechanic and activist uses bicycles to engage youth and create community

Story by Martha Beach

Photo by Dana Lacey

Maggie Anderson, Executive Director of Bicycle Commons, loves bikes purely for the fact that they are so simple. “As a cyclist, I love low-tech. I love how simple they are. They’re clean in the way that it’s direct human power,” says Anderson, activist and mechanic who will be teaching bicycle mechanics at the new Bicycle Commons space on Lower Jarvis Street. “Your bicycle is also an expression of who you are.”

The new 5,000-square foot Commons community space (which was still under construction during this photo shoot) is in a building that was once restaurant, and will hold bike repair classes, workshops and a new mechanic training course — and much more. Most importantly, it will be a place where young people can feel comfortable learning, while enjoying a cup of coffee and free wifi. The Bicycle Commons is a group of cyclists, activists, and mechanics that strives to support cycling, community and youth education.

Anderson has been working in the industry since 1993. Her main role at the Bicycle Commons is teaching the mechanic’s course. The new Commons space that is opening is meant to be an inclusive hub.

“Anyone can sign up. We want it to be completely accessible so we’re going to get everyone from hobbyists to professionals,” Anderson says.

Getting people interested in bikes is exactly what Anderson loves doing. She uses the bicycle as a tool to teach and engage youth about the workings of gear systems and brakes, but she also uses it as a door to teaching structure, responsibility, community, and belonging.

“Bikes can easily create the community,” says Anderson. “But it’s not just about bikes, it’s about the world and about feeling that sense of belonging. They can take this feeling out into the world. The bike becomes a tool of engagement.”

Bicycles are an easy way to teach people how to repair, fix, and tune mechanical workings. “They’re so easily demystified. It’s open, you can see everything, so it’s easy to teach.” Once someone can see how simply the system is, they gain the confidence to take it apart, fix it, and put it back together. That confidence helps them feel a sense of belonging.”

Over the past 18 years, Anderson has used cycling and mechanics to engage all kinds of people all over the city. She started off working with the Community Bike Network (CBN) which led her to volunteering at a woman and children’s shelter where she spent one day a week taking kids out on group rides, teaching tykes how to ride, and showing women and youth how to tune and fix their bicycle.

Later on, Anderson helped start Women’s Bike Work (now Wenches with Wrenches) and from there bought into the original Oxford Street location of Bikes on Wheels, and then became a member at Urbane Cyclist. While at Urbane Cyclist, she took a two-week mechanics course at Winterbourne in Guelph.

Anderson’s role at Urbane Cyclist was a service manager. What she liked most about that role was explaining to others how their bikes worked, and watching them realize how simple the system was, how much they could understand if they just took a look at it. “I  really enjoy that moment, I enjoy teaching people.”

While there are a lot of activists at Urbane Cyclist, she wanted to be part of community development again. “Teaching  kids is what excited me about taking on this position at the Commons.”

The new Bicycle Commons space is at 77 Lower Jarvis and more information about the organization be found online at thebicyclecommons.org.

Read our other post about the Bicycle Commons: Wrenching for Communities with The Bicycle Commons

Our new issue of dandyhorse–due on newsstands this June–is filled with inspiring profiles of young people and people who bike to work or work with bikes! We’ve got Olivia Chow (!!), Irene Stickney, Tom Mosher, Shah Mohammad and Braden Root-McCaig and more!

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