Well away from the main commercial centre of Aberdeen, nestled in a lane just off Old Aberdeen’s High Street on the University campus, is beCyCle, a low-key community project dedicated to encouraging citizens to cycle. Voice’s David Innes popped in for a look and chatted with Benedict Poetz of beCyCle.
“I just came along, took a bike out, got interested and continued participating. Now I help out here as much as I can.
“For example I built the work benches as a project with some other people.
“As a volunteer, I help maintain the workshop and help people out with repairs. I also repair my own bike, a hand-built lightweight Carlton from the 1980s.
“We get some funding from the University and from the Student Association. We get donations, but the most important thing is that we get bikes to fix. Today, for example, we picked up thirteen bikes from Cults and someone came past and dropped off another five bikes.”
These are not sold off for beCyCle funds as you might expect.
“We rent them out, but for free. BeCyCle’s for everyone, but mostly it’s university students who’ll take out a bike for six months or a year against a deposit of £40 – £60 which is returned to them when we get the bike back. All our services are free.”
All types of bike?
“Yes, whatever is donated, but mostly they’re hybrid type mountain bikes.”
“The idea is that volunteers are here to help people fix their own bikes, giving advice and a bit of tuition. Volunteers provide the tools, knowledge and advice and encourage people to do repairs themselves. It’s free and open for everyone in the community, not only students. We don’t offer any services, we just provide the space and help for people working on bikes. All the volunteers have a bit of knowledge, so between us we always manage to repair them.
“We’re here because the University has given us the space, rent-free – or for the symbolic one pound rental – and some funding. It was an empty shell, so we built the benches and painted it. We pay our own electricity bills and so on, but we don’t need too much money. We have no commercial sponsors.”
Do you buy parts and sell them on cheaply or do people have to supply their own?
“We get spares donated quite often, but some parts like cables and stuff like WD40 we buy in bulk from the money the University donates to us.”
There were around a dozen young people coming and going during the visit, but does it get quieter during the holiday period?
“It’s the beginning of summer, so this is about it for the moment.”
There’s a tangible community ethos about beCyCle.
“It provides a space for people to repair their bikes and exchange bike ideas and knowledge. The lending scheme makes bikes freely available for the community, to encourage cycling. We’re trying to get the wider community involved by making it more open to everyone, even beyond Old Aberdeen. We’d like to have some joint programmes, for example bike maintenance projects, with local community centres and have open days to encourage such projects.”
How many bikes does beCyCle have and manage?
“We’re never quite sure. At the moment we have maybe 100 bikes here with perhaps another 100 or 200 on loan, so a rough estimate of 300-400 bikes in circulation. We try to keep track but it gets difficult, although we are now using a laptop, spreadsheet and pictures of the bikes to improve this.”
Cycling continues to gain popularity as a healthy, quick, cheap and planet-friendly mode of transport. BeCyCle’s efforts are to be applauded in encouraging would-be cyclists to try it out affordably. If you like the sound of that, they’ll be delighted to hear from you.