Common Cycle: Taking Off on Two Wheels

Jimmy Raggett is envisioning an Ann Arbor with a public bicycle repair stand in every neighborhood.
"We've talked about how cool that would be right from the beginning," he says. "Just having an air pump - that's a big thing right there."
And with Common Cycle, the nonprofit organization Raggett co-founded three years ago, he and his collaborators have been making remarkable progress towards that goal. Common Cycle recently installed public air pumps and tire patch kits at all five Ann Arbor District Library locations, and partnered with U-M student Arielle Fleisher on the installation of two new bike repair stands on campus
Before these more concrete installations, however, Common Cycle got off to a more modest start. Raggett and Pieter Kleymeer, two of Common Cycle's six original co-founders, began considering new ways to unite Ann Arbor's cyclists back in early 2010. It had become clear to Raggett that Ann Arbor Cyclery, the long-lived bike shop where he'd first tapped in to the local cycling community, "was going south."
"We started talking about how the community needed a place to fill that hole," Raggett says. "We attended a seminar on non-profits, and that's when we said, ‘Well, this is how we do it.'"
With the help of a few early volunteers, the co-founders began setting up regularly at the Ann Arbor Artisan Market, offering their expertise and repair equipment to other cyclists free of charge. The effort was successful enough to raise $5,000 via Kickstarter at the end of Common Cycle's first summer, funding the purchase of a full set of professional repair equipment and a trailer to carry it. Ben Schultz was one of Common Cycle's first volunteers in that inaugural year.
"I wasn't somebody who had been biking for a long time," Schultz says. "I learned basically everything I know about bike maintenance through folks at Common Cycle. It's always stressed that you can volunteer with us at any skill level. If you're a novice and you want to learn more, just being there is a great thing."
Today, Common Cycle still has a regular presence at the Artisan Market, with around five volunteers servicing 15-20 bikes per weekend. But Raggett and Kleymeer are the only founders still involved in the project, while Schultz is now president of the organization. For Raggett, these are natural shifts in a group whose leadership was always intended to be cyclical.
"Ann Arbor is a stepping stone for a lot of people, where they go to school here for two or four years and then they're off," he says. "So our idea was to be able to hand it off, to give it to the people who needed it."
Common Cycle now comprises around 30 volunteers, and they're leading the organization into a range of fresh efforts. This summer will see the group making a new monthly appearance at the Cobblestone Farm Market and presenting at the Ypsilanti District Library. Raggett's dream of a repair station in every neighborhood will also get another push, as Common Cycle installs a "bike lab"—a repair center and community gathering space - in the University Townhouses co-op. That project is sponsored by the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society, but all Common Cycle's other endeavors are funded by individual donations at the farmer's market or other events.
"We have always been explicitly not pushy about donations," Schultz says. "But people have been very generous."
With this outpouring of monetary and volunteer support, Raggett says the reason for Common Cycle's success is simple: as cycling's popularity has grown, a well-organized cycling community is now more valuable than ever.
"There'll be a person who's had the same bike for 30 years and comes in and doesn't even know how to fix a flat, and then there's a guy who bought a $6,000 bike and is in the same boat," Raggett says. "People can have the enthusiasm, but they're still going to need somewhere to go to ask questions."

All photos by Doug Coombe

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