Following a nationwide cycling boom
that began in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, biking for exercise, transportation, and community has grown in popularity in Ypsilanti. For some, though, barriers like not knowing how to patch a tire or the road rules for cyclists can make biking feel less safe or accessible. Over the past six years, dedicated volunteers at the Ypsi Bike Co-op
have been working to educate Ypsi's community on bike maintenance and safety in order to get more cyclists out on the road.
Co-founded by Georgina Hickey, the co-op got its start in 2017 as a weekly bicycle repair education booth at Ypsilanti's Depot Town farmers market and the now-defunct downtown farmers market. After a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, the co-op returned to the markets and found a community seeking safe outdoor activities.
"The community response has been great," Hickey says. "Every year we add around two new stalwart volunteers who come week after week."
While the group is a co-op by name, Hickey emphasizes that there are "no barriers to entry" to participate. The co-op's booth at the Depot Town market is welcoming and encourages folks to walk right up with or without their bikes to learn more. Volunteers' repair services are all completely free – and bring with them educational opportunities.
Yitah Wu repairing a bike at the Ypsi Bike Co-op's booth at Ypsilanti's Depot Town farmers market.
"We do have a number of people who support us but don't know how to fix bikes," says Hickey. "If you show up with the mission to build a positive bike culture in Ypsi, you get to be a part of it."
While the co-op is designed to help anyone regardless of age or bike knowledge, the group emphasizes providing mutual aid to those who rely on a bike as their primary form of transportation. Volunteer Valerie Fox, who has been helping out the booth since 2018, says she really appreciates aiding those who solely ride a bike or use public transportation to get around town.
"A lot of people don't use their bike because they don't feel empowered," Fox says. "We want to advocate for those who have no motorized transportation, and the viability of riding for more than just fun."
Both Fox and Hickey note that the co-op has expanded beyond the markets and into participating in events hosted by other local organizations over the years. Those events have included a car and bike repair day hosted with Mentor2Youth
, a kids' triathlon at Rutherford Pool
, and an ongoing partnership with the Mutual Aid Network of Ypsilanti
(MANY) where co-op volunteers offer bike repair knowledge at MANY's monthly Pull Over Prevention Clinic
"It's exciting to be able to get into other parts of the community," Fox says.
Emma Nelson, Yitah Wu, Anthony Lutz, Terry Carpenter, and Valerie Fox at the Ypsi Bike Co-op's booth at Ypsilanti's Depot Town farmers market.
In addition to engaging with the community through markets and an increasing number of events, the co-op is also involved in discussions of improving cycling infrastructure in both Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. Co-op volunteer and Reimagine Washtenaw
Project Manager Nathan Voght says he likes to have the co-op provide perspective on city issues that would concern cyclists whenever possible.
"We want to weigh in on topics like adding more bike lanes to make biking more accessible to the community," Voght says.
Voght also brings his experience with the co-op and its volunteers to the Reimagine Washtenaw project, which seeks to "bring a complete multi-modal street to the Washtenaw Avenue corridor." Voght brings notable issues cyclists are facing to discussions with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)
"MDOT is currently doing a study
to come up with preferred alternatives in order to fix Washtenaw Avenue," he explains. "But we also want to find money to add more bike lanes and focus on beautification efforts to keep cyclists safe and get more people out on their bikes."
Anthony Lutz repairing a bike at the Ypsi Bike Co-op's booth at Ypsilanti's Depot Town farmers market.
The co-op offers a variety of opportunities for anyone looking to volunteer, whether it's being present in government decision-making, teaching community members about road safety, or getting your hands dirty and fixing a bike. Hickey and other volunteers hope that increasing interest in the co-op will not only lead to more community partnerships and opportunities, but also make Ypsilanti residents feel more comfortable and excited to get out into the city on their bikes.
"We're just a bunch of people that care about biking and people who use biking as the primary form of transportation," Voght says.
Fox adds that the co-op is always seeking "people who want to support the mission," and Hickey agrees.
"We want to get [bikes] rolling instead of in a garage or on the side of a road," she says. "I ride my bike all the time. I want more people on bikes."
For more information on the Ypsilanti Bike Co-op or to find an event to attend, visit the co-op's Facebook
or Instagram pages
. Questions about the co-op and bike maintenance can also be sent to the co-op through Facebook Messenger.
Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
All photos by Doug Coombe.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.