Imagine a Lakeland where commuters regularly ride bikes to work, families take Sunday morning bike rides around the park and couples spend time together tuning-up their bikes.
It’s a Lakeland the members of Veloswan hope to help engineer.
A new bicycle cooperative, Veloswan made a splash yesterday with a casual mention of their organization on Twitter:
We have a space, we have bikes, and we have people. Veloswan, Lakeland’s own bicycle cooperative, is finally here! – @veloswan
Within hours community members were asking about the group’s goals, where to find contact information and how to volunteer. Even the media was on the hunt out for more about Veloswan with messages on popular social media channels.
Veloswan Co-Director Will Shaffer biked downtown Tuesday evening to meet with LakelandLocal.com writer Tammy Wright, author of the Lakeland Pedaller column, and to discuss the organization’s fast start. The group hopes to open in 60 days with a center that is part workspace, part storage and all educational. “There is a need for a bicycling hub in Lakeland,” said Shaffer.
Shaffer said Veloswan hasn’t developed overnight, “There are about ten of us who have spent ten hours a day researching bike co-ops, connecting with the community, finding what we need.” He said that many similar co-ops start meeting out of storage sheds. Veloswan hopes starting in their own center will allow the group to maintain regular hours and offer a better service to the community.
New to community organizing, but not new to the city, the members of the bicycle cooperative met while working at a North Lakeland Starbucks. Shaffer stated the group would focus on helping those needing bikes learn how to build and repair their own bicycles using materials donated to Veloswan. “We’ve already had 30 bikes donated just by word of mouth,” said Shaffer. He estimated it takes 50 bikes to put together enough basic parts to build 25 working bikes. The group will accept any donated bike or parts, “We’ll take any bike in any condition – rusted, bent or broken. There’s always going to be some part we can use.”
In addition to refurbishing bikes to be released back into the community, the group hopes to educate Lakelanders to repair and build bikes. “We’ll have a new class each month that will cover some part of the bike,” Shaffer said. He added that Veloswan would teach the same class four times each month to make sure interested participants would have the opportunity to attend. The group has even designed a patch to present to those finishing the full course of classes. Shaffer hopes the participants give their new found expertise back to the community by helping at the co-op.
Shaffer said Veloswan won’t require any membership fees or specific donations to be a part of the co-op, but expects participants to donate 10 volunteer hours. As an unfunded organization, Veloswan expects to use volunteers in every capacity, but Shaffer stressed that volunteering at other community organizations could work, “We’re not separating ourselves. We’re OK if you’re willing to donate your time to the community as a whole. Not just us.”
That doesn’t mean Veloswan wouldn’t be happy to have volunteers helping in any capacity, “Everyone is a resource. You can paint, sweep, teach, etc. Anything.” Shaffer said the group already has a “slew of mechanics – BMX, road bike, cruiser. You name it.” He added that doesn’t mean the group couldn’t use more. They hope to have bike mechanics always on duty to help Lakelanders build their own bikes, “We’ll set you up with the basic parts. We have a motto: ‘Education through labor.’ “
Shaffer mention the group welcomes anyone interested in biking. He believes those who assemble their own bikes will be filled with the same love for biking he has developed. He said he’s only been committed to biking for “about three years. I don’t know every part or brand name. My passion is biking in any form.” After he realized he had extra bikes in his garage, Shaffer starting building bikes for friends looking to bike.
Shaffer stated he has been in contact with all the Lakeland bike shops and each is interested in helping where they can. The group doesn’t feel they are in competition with the bike shops. They want to fill a need for those who will utilize workhorse bikes to get to work or ride while a car is being repaired. The latter is an idea Shaffer had while at talking to a local mechanic. He thought the group could leave a pair of bikes for customers to ride home while the car is in the shop.
When Veloswan develops a strong enough stock, Shaffer plans special emphasis on helping children 12 and under, “If they show up, they can pick any bike that fits.” He hopes there are enough extras to allow the children to personalize their new bike. Adults looking for a bike won’t be handed one outright. The group will help gather the parts and expertise to help the adult build his or her own bike.
Those coming to the co-op may not find particular part brands or styles. Shaffer said the group won’t have bikes or bike parts for sale and expects Veloswan will have a “wish list” for needed parts and supplies. He said tires and tire tubes are always the most difficult to find. “We’ll fix what we can. Bikes will be first come-first serve,” Shaffer said.
Late Tuesday the group had their first setback when a promised free repair/storage space fell through. Shaffer said community members were calling with possible locations and he feels confident Veloswan will still open in 60 days. He asked that anyone with 1000 sq. feet of space suitable for bike repair and education give Veloswan a call at 863.812.3549 anytime 8am to 6pm.
The group currently has a bike donation drop off center afternoons at Evolution Records at 119 S Kentucky. They’re hoping to add additional drop-off locations at Old School Compound and the Farmer’s Market.
Update: April 8th, 1 pm
The phone number for Veloswan has been changed. The number above is now correct (863.812.3549). Also, Veloswan has found a home at Evolution Records. According to Will Shaffer, Evolution Owner Robert Tucker donated space in the back of his building at 119 S Kentucky. Shaffer said the space will allow Veloswan to open their classes and repair stations in approximately 30 days.