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Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance: Building, repairing and teaching safety at Bend's Community BikeShed 

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Joe Katroscik is trying to explain something about bicycle parts, while Michael Martin bangs an old frame with a hammer. Pointing towards the front of the bike in progress, Katroscik says, "See this joint, what's it called Michael? A lug?"

"You big lug," Martin chimes in, clanging away.

Not acknowledging the joke, Katroscik continues to talk bike mechanics and the mission of Bend's Community BikeShed.

Tucked in a small room in the back of the Bend Community Center, the BikeShed houses bicycle tools and a ragtag variety of bike frames, gears and wheels. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., a small but capable group of volunteers works like Dr. Frankenstein, bringing old bikes new life and at the same time providing safety checks, maintenance lessons and outfitting Bend's homeless population with two wheelers.

"The only standard is that there is no standard. Anyone can take a brand-new part out of a box and make it work. What do you say, Michael?" Katroscik elaborates.

"We make miracles happen." Martin chimes in again.

"There was this one homeless guy, and he took this part with two little bearings that wasn't supposed to be fixed," says Katroscik. "He beat the bejeezus out it and fixed it."

The BikeShed, which began as a serving project for Heart of Oregon Corps, a youth volunteer organization, service-learning project, has gained momentum since its first opened on March 24, 2009. Last spring, volunteers repaired 23 bikes for the Bethlehem Inn during the United Way Day of Caring. Ben Hoover, the interim president of the BikeShed, relayed some of the co-op's accomplishments since it opened the official shop in the back of the Community Center on October 19, saying that they'd handed out 20 vouchers, which can be redeemed for a bike, to organizations like the Bethlehem Inn, and have been averaging as many as four bike repairs per day.

The BikeShed seems fitting for a city like Bend, which is becoming known as a premier biking town, hosting events like the Cascade Cycling Classic, and now the Cyclocross National Championships. But there's also a sizeable bicycle commuting community in Bend, with Commute Options continuiously expanding.

Walking around to the back of the community center to what is lovingly called the "Boneyard," Katroscik pulls up a tarp to show off the rebuilt bikes, as well as some that are awaiting elbow grease. Besides being offered to Bend's homeless community, the bikes are available to the community for anywhere from $20 to $100, which is perfect for someone like me, a writer and artist whose bike got stolen last summer and whose budget can't afford to replace it yet.

The BikeShed, like Seattle-based BikeWorks, wants to grow into a learn-and-earn program in which volunteers trade service for bicycles, and is currently working with Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School (REALMS), teaching students basic bike safety as well as maintenance and repair with the mechanics at the BikeShed.

Katroscik says that safety is a priority for the program and this means more than just passing out helmets, although they do that, too. The BikeShed is hoping to build on its reputation as an advocate for the biking community by working closely with Commute Options. BikeShed volunteers also serve as bike valets for the various bicycle races and community events in town. A key to the program's success will include finding a new home for the BikeShed that has more room for safety programs. The move is expected to happen this spring, before the demand on the four main volunteer mechanics working in the tiny shop hits critical mass. A nonprofit, the BikeShed exists on donations and fundraising, such as the sale of RiseUp designed t-shirts that hang from the tiny workshop's ceiling.

"As far as donations, if we just had parts... Parts are huge. What we're doing, we either replace or repair," says Katroscik, "When we get an old bike, it's not like we can make it worse."

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