Utica Bike Rescue still providing transportation through the winter months


CLINTON — For some less-fortunate in the community, a bicycle is their only mode of daily transportation to their jobs, school, the grocery store and to medical appointments.

So while most may think that bicycles, for the most part, are put away during the cold wintry months while roadways and sidewalks are snow-covered and slick, others must utilize them as their main mode of transportation year-round.

That is why Utica Bike Rescue is still open and operating.

Headquartered at the former YMCA building in Downtown Utica, 714 Washington St., UBR also has its satellite shop at 8 College St. The Clinton shop during the winter months is open by appointment only until March, but during the spring, summer and fall, offers the same services and programs as the Utica location.

UBR Executive Director Matthew VanSlyke said right now, the organization’s main workshop in Utica is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays.

Through the Bikes for Goodwill Organizations program, UBR provides refurbished bikes to clients identified by the non-profit’s partner organizations. Bikes for Goodwill Organizations provides increased mobility and access to transportation by giving recipients the means to travel independently and inexpensively to employment, medical appointments, meetings with case workers, school and other necessary travel, according to their website.

VanSlyke is a professional transportation planner, experienced bicycle mechanic, avid bicyclist and former president of the New York Bicycling Coalition.

“At our workshop, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays, people can drop in, work on their bike with our help, come in and get a bike or even take part in our Earn a Bike program,” VanSlyke said. “People can volunteer their time at the shop and earn a bike that way, and then we also sell used bikes. That revenue (from the used bikes) goes to support our outreach programs like Earn a Bike and Bike Rodeo.”

Bike Rodeo is a program UBR will host with area school districts to promote bicycle safety for children. An event, sponsored by the Clinton Central School Parent Teacher Association, was held back in June at the end of the school year.

The Earn a Bike program is open to students, particularly at-risk or refugee youth. Participants attend the 90-minute Earn-A-Bike course twice a week, for 6-8 weeks. Each student completely disassembles a bike in the first 2-4 weeks.

In the second 2-4 weeks, they complete the process and rebuild their “brand new looking bikes,” VanSlyke said.

“While there are specific tasks that need to happen, they develop their own sense of time management, with the reality that they need to finish their bike before the end of the session,” he said.

According to UBR, students participating in the Earn-A-Bike program:

• Develop mechanical and technical aptitude.

• Develop a sense of pride and individual responsibility.

• Develop time management skills.

• Engage in a healthier lifestyle.

• Promote repurposing and recycling of consumer goods.

• Learn about traffic safety.

• Help combat childhood obesity.

• Contribute to pollution prevention.

Other programs offered by UBR:

Bicycle Mechanic Class

Bicyclists interested in learning new skills, or honing their abilities, can attend any or all of the classes taught by trained and experienced bicycle mechanics in the hands-on training course. The goal of the course is to educate and empower participants by teaching them new mechanical skills. But because Utica Bike Rescue is also dependent on volunteers to expand its programming to reach a wider audience, graduates of the Bicycle Mechanic Class are encouraged to return to UBR as volunteers.

Campus Connection

Under this program, students will select a bicycle from UBR’s fleet of refurbished bicycles. Students will pay a security deposit and a fee to “lease” the bicycle for a semester. At the end of the semester, the student will have the option to either renew the lease for the upcoming semester; return the bicycle and recoup the security deposit; or forfeit the security deposit in exchange for keeping the bicycle.

All students leasing bicycles under this program are also granted five hours of open shop time where they can perform maintenance on their bicycle or learn about bicycle repair from one of UBR’s trained mechanics. Students who renew a spring semester lease for the upcoming fall semester will be allowed to keep the bicycle through the summer at no cost. This program runs on a two-semester per year schedule.

Only On My Bike

Partnering with community organizations, the Only On My Bike program integrates bicycle riding skills, safety and repair into existing summer camp programs. The program is tailored to meet the camp schedule and the age and ability of campers. The safety instruction can include as little as 2-3 hours during the camp session, incorporation of mechanical instruction requires a longer time commitment. By participating in Only On My Bike, campers:

• Learn essential bicycling safety skills.

• Develop confidence in bicycle handling.

• Develop mechanical and technical aptitude.

• Engage in a healthier lifestyle.

• Help combat childhood obesity.

VanSlyke said community members wishing to donate their old bikes or parts to the program may drop off donations or make arrangements to have them picked up. Those considering making a monetary donation to the organization during the holiday season may send a check to Utica Bike Rescue at its 714 Washington St., Utica, headquarters, or through PayPal on their website at www.uticabikerescue.org.

Because so many local residents use their bicycles for transportation throughout the year, VanSlyke said business at the organization’s headquarters has remained steady.

“That’s why we keep our downtown location open through the winter, because folks use bikes for their daily transportation, and the shop remains busy,” he said. “It’s not as busy as the summer, but it’s steady for people who need to repair a bike or if something breaks and they need a part, because winter is hard on bikes.”

VanSlyke said UBR gets a regular “handful” of people who come work at the Utica shop on Thursdays during the winter.

“We also have a couple Social Services organizations that come in with folks,” he said. “They help us with work on the bikes, volunteer some hours and learn some new skills, and that really helps.”

Right now staff and volunteers are getting bikes ready for UBR’s annual contribution to Midtown Utica Community Center at 43 Scott St.

“For the last several years we’ve provided a couple dozen bikes every year as a way to help out the youth they work with at the community center,” VanSlyke said. “They’re all being cleaned up and fixed up by our volunteers right now, and they’re mostly kids bikes.”

UBR is looking for hard-working, community-minded people who can rebuild and repair bikes. They also need help dismantling bikes to be used for parts, sorting parts, inventory, managing the workshop during open shop hours and thinking up new ways to get bikes back into use. Those interested may go to UBR’s website or call 315-525-9554.


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