“You come into Cycles for Change with your bike wanting to fix your handlebars. You wait for a stand, you get a stand. You expect the staff to fix it for you, pay them, walk in, walk out. But instead, they let you do it and are there to help guide you through the process. It’s fun. And it’s free.”
This is how Mai Her would describe Cycles for Change to someone who has never been before. And it is similar to the experience she had.
Mai, now beginning her third year at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities as a psychology major and neuroscience/IT minor, stumbled upon Cycles for Change in high school. “They give out books of course offerings and I wanted to do something different,” she said. “I found Sibley Bike Depot in the book and it said you could fix up a bike and take it home with you. I liked the idea of getting a free bike.”
So Mai took the class and learned a lot of hands-on bike maintenance, even finding she loved to clean the hubs of bikes. She had always been an avid cyclist, but had never known anything about fixing bikes. “Learning how to fix bikes was kind of a draw to the program,” she said. After completing the class and working open shop nights, she was invited to apply to an opening in the Youth Apprentice Program, which she was a part of in 2012 and 2013.
One of her most memorable experiences at C4C involved big figures in her community. “There were two council members that came in at different times,” she said. “One came to talk with the youth apprentices and the other came in to fix his bike and I got to help him. For me, the council member was such a big figure, and I felt like a badass getting to work with him. But it was nice to see that he was also just a cyclist like me and we were all just working on the bike together.” This sense of community is something that Mai enjoyed most about her time at C4C.
She also commented on how C4C’s Women and Transgender Open Shop Night had a great impact on her. “It provides a safe space. I don’t know a lot of safe spaces for these people so it’s great for this community,” she said. She noted that she got to experience this particular open shop as both a staff member and as someone working on her own bike.
Making connections at youth conferences was another way Mai was able to experience community, and she had the opportunity to attend the Youth Venture Conference in Washington, D.C. and the Youth Bike Summit in New York City. “I still have the business cards from people I met at those conferences,” she said. “The most interesting thing about those conferences is that, since they are all about sustainability and social change, each organization has their own different way of how they attack it and handle it, but it’s all to get at the same goal.”
Now, Mai doesn’t bike as much as she did during her youth apprenticeship. “When I was in the program, I biked a lot more than I do now. And I wanted to for some odd reason,” she laughed. “And now that I’m not in that atmosphere, it’s sort of like, ‘eh, you can go bike [without me].’”
When asked what kind of support she would need to get biking again she replied with ‘resources.’ “I don’t even know what communities there are,” she said. “Finding people my own age, knowing what kind of routes, what events are happening, who to bike with. That would help.”
Nevertheless, Mai has transferred her C4C experiences, interests, and skills from biking to cars. “[Bike maintenance] has peaked my interest in car maintenance,” she said. “I’ll own a car someday, so I’d like to know how to fix it. Working on bikes first was a good start.”