CHICAGO — A business that began finding ways to recycle scrap metal and used bike parts has transformed into a pivotal organization providing transportation to people across the world.
Working Bikes is filled with worn and tattered old bikes that are about to get a second life.
“Working bikes was founded to take old bikes and things that weren’t being used all over Chicago and give them new life all over the world,” Trevor Clarke, executive director, said.
Bicycles at Working Bikes often find their new lives in an entirely different world than the shop they started at.
“Donated bikes are what we live off of, we want everybody to know if they have an old bike and want to give it the best possible use, give it to us and we’ll either send it abroad or fix it up,” Clarke said.
Lee Ravenscroft and his wife Amy Little had no idea their recycling shop started more than 20 years ago would become what it is today.
“So we really had no intentions except to recycle. Before we knew it, we had a basement full of 400 bikes that were perfectly useful,” Little said.
Today, Working Bikes has grown into a full-time staff of 18, along with having hundreds of volunteers.
“It’s exponential. We started with 100 bikes a year, now we are at almost 10,000, giving them away locally and sending them overseas,” Ravenscroft said.
Trevor Clarke said the organization has donated an estimated 100,000 bicycles internationally.
“In a typical year, we will send 15 containers to Africa and Central America,” Clarke said.
The massive export is due to bicycles being the primary mode of transportation in many countries, with Clarke having said Sierra Leone and El Salvador are two countries that benefit greatly from donations.
For those looking for new bikes, ‘Working Bikes’ also offers an on-site retail shop and a community repair shop for adjustments.
Clarke said both providing to the community, along with providing to those across the world in need offers cost benefits and is helpful to the environment.
“I think the founding belief of the working bikes was the bicycle as a tool of empowerment, something that’s not a toy that’s really helpful, that can help someone access resources that they might not otherwise be able to access,” Clarke said.