The Bike Doctor is in: St. Catharines man helps keep people rolling

Photos courtesy of Bazil Smith

The ‘Bike Doctor’ is in

Story by Jeff Carson

For cyclists in Toronto, getting a bike repaired is often a simple task. There are many wonderful bike shops and mechanics for those inclined to pay for repairs. There are DIY repair shops that will help you learn to repair your bike and give you access to the tools to do so for a small fee. Outside of a big, bustling city though, options can be limited. And in St. Catharines, Ontario: That’s where the Bazil Smith comes in.

Smith has partnered with Truth for Teens, a local charitable organization focused on helping at risk youth, to repair bikes for free.

Truth for Teens was founded by Rick Osborne, a former drug addict and gang member who spent 25 years in jail. After his release, Rick worked to change his life, and, in 2005, started Truth for Teens with his wife Heather Osborne. In addition to speaking to teens about the dangers of gang life, drugs and violence, Rick has programs to teach teens to build motorcycles and muscle cars.

Smith has a background of working on motorcycles and cars with Truth for Teens, but his passion for restoring and repairing bikes allows him to bring a unique skill to help anyone who might need their bike repaired in St. Catharines. Anyone is welcome to come by and visit the “Bike Doctor” on Saturdays during the warmer months (Smith stopped the program in December when bike traffic slowed, but will be back in the spring) at his custom-built bike stand at the Central Community Church (downtown campus).

Smith recently shared his experience volunteering for Truth for Teens and his love of bikes with dandyhorse.

dandyhorse: How long have you been cycling and where did you learn how to repair bikes?

Bazil Smith: I've been riding since I can remember. And before that, I just wanted to ride a bike.

I grew up in downtown Hamilton. I have always been a "gearhead” -- self taught on bikes and later cars and motorcycles. My father was a steelworker and discouraged me from getting greasy. My mom tells me other little kids would come to me with broken bikes to fix. Easy stuff at first, like putting the chain back on, from the earliest times. When I was in my early teend, I would hang around the local bike store and learned how to lace wheels. I saved my money from an after school job and bought a brand new "semi pro" Windsor when I was 15. I recently was able to get most of that old bike back. A future restoration project awaits! I also still have my Columbus tubing Italian racer from the mid eighties.

My personal ride is a full-fendered, saddlebag-equipped, Dutch-made Gazelle with Sturmey Archer gears and rod actuated hub brakes. I have restored a few vintage Sturmey Archer three-speed Raleighs and currently have a Raleigh-made Eaton's Glider in the works.

How did you get involved with Truth for Teens?

My friend heard Rick Osborne speak at a church in St. Catharines and last spring she got involved with a drop-in program that Rick and his wife were starting locally. She knew how handy I was with fixing and adjusting bikes, because we had recently put close to 40 hours into restoring her vintage Raleigh Superbe.

It was originally suggested that I repair bikes every second week, but right away I knew how important it was to the people I was helping. So I committed to do it every week.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the work Truth for Teens does in St. Catharines?

Our program in St. Catharines is called R.O.C.K. (Reach Out with Care and Kindness). This is just one of the things Truth for Teens does. Ozzy's Garage helps youth by building a cool car, or a hot rod motorcycle. R.O.C.K. started out by volunteers preparing and serving lunch on Saturdays for anyone who is hungry. My bike repair clinic is another volunteer service we provide from 12 p.m. till 3 p.m. on Saturdays. We average around 100 people most Saturdays. I usually help bring food and I'm set up by 10:30 a.m. most days. There can be customers waiting when we show up!

Does Truth for Teens also help people get access to cheap or free bikes?

I get donation bikes and parts from many sources, including the people we see at our program every week.

We provide bikes when they become available, based on a list anyone can sign up for. I repair the bike with parts I scavenge off other donation bikes, or I get the recipient to pay for replacement parts, like tubes.

When you repair bikes for people in the program, what does it mean for them to have access to a working bicycle?

A person who is starting a new job needs transportation, and a reliable bike can be the start of their lives turning around for the good. For many people, having a bike gives them the freedom of mobility.

Many bikes come in, and the guy will say, "Can you take a look at the brakes?" Well, I'd take a look and the brakes, or pads, or cables are missing! Or gears are rusted, or wheels damaged. I mean, more times than anything, it's a safety issue, not just access to a bike that works.

You welded together your own bike stand for repairs, what kind of work do you do for most people? Is it mostly small repairs, or are there larger fixes you'll take on?

I'm a licensed machinist and I have my own small shop Monday - Friday and I'm not a bad welder, so when I started the bike clinic, I needed a stand. It pivots and is capable of holding most bikes. I always bring my stand and a small one-horsepower compressor I plug in for tire service. It's a shame there is nowhere to fill bike tires without having a dollar in your pocket.

In addition to bringing a few "project bikes" I have a few tubs of used components, like brake levers, cables, derailleurs and seats.

When I first started the clinic, I borrowed a small set of Park Tools from a friend for the first part of the summer, but now have bought some of my own and started a set. I am capable of servicing most major components on a bike. I even carry a spare bottom bracket bearing set, and spare fork neck bearings. I can straighten most wheels even with a broken spoke or three. The only thing I don't do is flat repairs. I just change the tubes, they cost $5 each.

Smith's bike stand and free bike repair will get rolling again in the spring. You can find him downtown St. Catharines at Central Community Church (downtown campus).

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Build a bike, build your confidence

Youth Master Mechanics: Charlie’s Freewheels

Art Starts build-a-bike program for youth in Lawrence Heights, Villaways and Glendower neighbourhoods

Central Commerce Collegiate’s innovative and popular Bike Repair and Maintenance Course

Dandyhorse asks Toby Bowers and Eugene Chao: How did you learn to fix bicycles?

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