here’s an Italian racing bike that’s waiting for a chain. In the corner, 1970s-style cruisers lay waiting for final repairs. There’s a Mexican Vista – made between 1968 and 1974 – hanging from the rafter. It’s the type of bike Bob Ehler said he would have ridden in high school.
“I’ve been doing it for about two and a half, three years,” Ehler – a city councilman and bike repair philanthropist, said of his foray into the repair-donate-bike business.
“I saw a lady on a Facebook group who was going to give away a bike but it had to be fixed,” he said. “And I thought, ‘I can do that. I’ve been fixing bikes since I was a kid.’ So, I volunteered and the next thing I know, people were giving me bikes.”
The Facebook group was Pay it Forward, a community page that operates by allowing members to post for things they need: clothes, baby formula, bicycles. Other members can than donate to Pay it Forward and if administrators find a match between a request and donation, they pair the two. The operation used to include a warehouse on administration’s private property but due to the overwhelming inventory and lack of space, the warehouse has since closed and members are required to trade among themselves via the Facebook group.
Ehler still utilizes the site and currently, has a waiting list.
He takes requests from residents who are in need of a bicycle, goes through his donation pile, fixes a bike that matches the request and donates the bike.
“It started with a lot of kid bikes,” he said. “The small BMX bikes that the boys ride. But now you have parents saying they want to ride with their kids too but they need a bike. So, 90 percent of the bikes now are for adults or older kids.”
He currently has a five-page waiting list.
Ehler, who was elected to the city council during the last election cycle, pays for the repairs out of his own pocket. A cost he estimates at $20 to $25 per bicycle.
“I’ve been doing it long enough that I know what everything costs. I know a chain is this much, a cable is this much, handgrips are this much,” he said of the three most frequently replaced parts. “Doing it when I’m on disability can be hard.”
There is a pile of bikes leaning against the wooden fence that separates Ehler’s outdoor shop from the street waiting for repairs, another on a stand that’s ready to go minus a brake cable. “I just can’t afford the parts for those right now,” he said.
He’s not letting finances halt his operation, though.
Ehler is in the market for more bikes to repair to trim his waitlist.
“The bikes I need most right now are 24” girl bikes,” he said. He is also looking for three-wheelers and cruisers.
Ehler takes donations in a variety of ways. Interested individuals can contact him via the Pay it Forward Facebook group or contact city hall for his personal phone number.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I’ll come outside and there will be bikes leaning up against my fence that people just drop off to be donated.”