by Eva Boynton/ www.oh-i-see.com/blog/2015/01/12/bike-co-ops-of-mexicoa-cyclist-movement/
Repair class in a bike co-op that is part of a larger cyclist movement. (Image © Ernesto Asecas)
A repair class at a bike coop gets bikes moving and fuels a bigger cyclist movement.
© Ernesto Asecas
How a Broken Chain Got Me Going
A bicycle can travel the globe, but any pedal-powered steed may need a tune-up along the way. On a cycle trip through California and Mexico, I walked into Casa Ciclista, a bicycle co-op in Guadalajara, looking for nothing more than a new chain. Instead, I emerged with a renewed sense of empowerment.
Little did I know a simple part replacement would gear me towards self sufficiency and a “hands-on” community looking to solve problems: themes of a cyclist movement in Mexico.
Two people holding up a bicycle wheel, illustrating how people in a bike co-op come together in a cyclist movement. (Image © Eva Boynton)
Hands at the collective helm
© Eva Boynton
The Cooperative: A Place for All
Bike co-ops are participant-run spaces for a burgeoning bicycle culture in Mexico. Each is unique in how it creates a free space for people to unite, learn, and make city changes.
Casa Bicitekas, a cooperative in Mexico City, describes itself as un lugar para todos (a place for all). Its aim is to be “a community center around the culture and art of urban cycling, offering a space for connection and coexistence . . .”
At each co-op I was warmly welcomed with a bed (literally). Not only did I find a vibrant community of people and talents but also cyclists who wanted to educate others as well as themselves.
In my Guadalajara layover, I learned firsthand the power of the co-op’s educational purpose. Cooperatives function as bicycle repair shops with tools and parts that are donated or collected. They offer essential working space.
Tools in a communal workspace inside a bike co-op, illustrating one way the co-ops build a community as part of their cyclist movement. (Image © Eva Boynton)
An oasis for cyclists who take tools into their own hands
© Eva Boynton
To replace my chain, a volunteer at Casa Ciclista directed me while my fingers stumbled around the bicycle’s nuts and bolts. Although he could have jumped in with his own hands, with more speed and efficiency, he had me use my own.
Co-ops are centers for teaching and learning. The volunteer made clear that the time we invested in my repair was time well spent.
Oh, I see the power of using my own hands. They were their own problem solvers, not limited by something gone awry. I was learning to wheel through Mexico on a vehicle I could power and maintain myself.
Bike co-op advocacy extends beyond the individual, playing a role in regional and national issues.
Each co-op recognizes the benefits and potential impact of bicycles. BiciRed (bici is short for “bicycle” and red for “network”), a national association of cooperatives in Mexico, explains:
The bicycle is the most efficient, healthy, economic, and sustainable means of transportation along the urban roadways of Mexico.
Greater use of bicycles can bring about a new model for city living that prioritizes the coexistence between people.
This creative 1-minute video from Bicitekas is a testimony to the bicycle as an option for moving around a city comfortably and rapidly.
If video does not display, watch it here.
When issues that affect the community arise, members of bike co-ops take advocacy efforts into their own hands. Cyclists at Casa Ciclista get their hands dirty to create bike parking out of car parking.
Cyclists from a bike co-op in Guadalajara turning a car parking space into bike parking. (Image © Casa Ciclista)
At least 6 bikes can fit in a parking space designed for one car.
© Casa Ciclista
Seth Domínguez and Kerem Meyeus are two people mobilizing their own ideas for bettering their city, Toluca. Seth, Kerem, and Seth’s dog Manouche are the co-founders of a bicycle cooperative called La Bicindad de Todxs (The Bicycle Neighborhood for All).
Seth Domínguez and Kerem Meyeus, part of the cyclist movement in Mexico, stand in the communal space of their bike co-op. (Image © Seth Domínguez)
Women, men, children, and even dogs can join the cyclist “neighborhood.”
© Seth Domínguez
The name, La Bicindad, combines the words bicicleta (bicycle) and vecindad (neighborhood). The “x” in Todxs (all) makes the word gender inclusive. The name reflects the spirit of community and unity for action in this Toluca co-op.
Seth is interested in utilizing La Bicindad to advocate for a bicycle-friendly city by installing bicycle parking, improving bike lanes, and holding maintenance classes for anyone interested. He clarifies why community members are relying on their own hands:
The whole idea of La Bicindad was that in Mexico everything is very bureaucratic, I mean everything. So, we wanted to do something bike-related and not have to depend on government money or belonging to a cycling group.
Pedaling for Pesos
Cooperatives are an oasis to cyclists—hosted space, tools, and instruction for free. So, how do they fund themselves?
As a true Renaissance man, Seth is a bicimensajero: a bike courier. He makes a living by picking up and delivering laundry, dry cleaning, and food.
In addition, using a heavy-duty industrial sewing machine, Seth sews backpacks, panniers, and hip bags out of recycled bicycle tubes for their co-op store. The proceeds go to La Bicindad.
Backpack made from used bike tubes in a Mexican bike co-op, illustrating how co-ops raise money for cyclist movements. (Image © Seth Dominguez)
Old bike tubes become new backpacks.
© Seth Domínguez
Although funding can be challenging, Seth makes a better wage on bicycle than when he taught English as a Second Language (ESL) to businessmen.
Ernesto Asecas, a coordinator at Casa Bicitekas, explains that his co-op runs off of donations, sales of t-shirts, books, stickers, and fund-raising parties as well as bicycle maintenance work around the city. The t-shirt sums up the co-op’s advocacy mission:
T-shirt created by Casa Bicitekas, a bike co-op that is part of the urban cyclist movement in Mexico City. (Image © Casa Bicitekas)
“Bicitekas—for more human cities and
© Casa Bicitekas
Time invested and handiwork keep the co-ops pedaling forward.
Bicycles Making the Move
When I started my bicycle tour, I saw the bike as a fun activity or means of commuting, cheap travel, exercise, team sport and racing. After visiting one bike co-op after another in Mexico, I began assigning new meaning to the bicycle: a public opportunity for personal, sustainable and social change.
The hands-on cyclist movement has begun, and it’s open to anyone.
Ride a bike!
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Thank you, Seth, for the interview. Thank you to the bicycle cooperatives in Guadalajara, Toluca, and Mexico City for hosting me along my bicycle tour. Hope to see you all again soon.