Knoxville Bike Collective Offers Workshops and Free Bikes

To find the Knoxville Bike Co-op, one must first locate the Marble City Brewing Company at 708 E. Depot St. in a quiet pocket of old industrial buildings on "the other side" of Hall of Fame Drive. To the left of the Marble City building is a chain-link gate, and on the gate is a bright blue flag sporting a painted heart. "Bike Co-op" it reads.

On any Sunday or Tuesday between the hours of 5 p.m.-8 p.m., the gate stands open. An arrow points the way around to the back of the building where an asphalt courtyard faces the train tracks. Bike-themed art covers the concrete block walls. A garage door opens into a cool cave-like space. Inside, bike parts hang from the ceiling and walls in neat rows. The smell of spray-paint and grease hangs in the air. Since May, this has been the Bike Collective's storage space and workshop, in the basement of the Marble City Brewing Co. Securing a bricks-and-mortar place of their own has been instrumental in carrying out the goals and mission of the collective. They have become more visible to the public eye and have found a renewed sense of purpose.

Jonathan Woodroof and Kevin Horn currently head up the Bike Collective, a constantly evolving collection of volunteers dedicated to promoting biking and educating the public to the joy of bike assembly and maintenance.

"We have ‘Bike Collective' and ‘Bike Co-op' on our signs. We've been calling this space ‘the co-op' and we call the people that run it ‘the collective,'" says Woodroof, clearing up a point of confusion.

Whereas a typical co-op might make decisions by consensus, most of the Bike Co-op's decisions are made, as Horn says, "on the fly."

Woodroof and Horn think the collective has been in existence for about five years, with meetings and workshops held in backyard sheds and, for a while, at Caswell Park. It's changed hands often over the years; none of the founders are still members. Woodroof, who describes himself as "mechanically-inclined" and used to work on cars, started associating with the collective in April 2011 when meetings were still held at Caswell Park.

"Everything I know about fixing bikes I learned at those meetings," Woodroof says.

The main program offered by the co-op is giving away free bikes to those who are willing to put in the hours learning to rebuild and repair the bike.

"We are just a conduit through which bike donations flow... we don't own this stuff," says Horn, gesturing to the bike parts crowding the space.

They have about 80 donated bikes, all in various states of disrepair. Woodroof and Horn provide free bike repair workshops at the Bike Co-op. The co-op also sell bikes.

Says Woodroof, "We try to discourage people from just buying a bike [without working on it] but it happens sometimes."

Bike prices are: $15, $30, $65, and $90; the price reflects the quality of the bike.

Since April, they've sold 12 bikes, and given away 30-40 bikes to individuals who learned how to build their own.

"That might seem like a low number," says "Woodroof, "but that means they came back for six to eight sessions. That's how long it takes to build a bike."

One Tuesday the workshop is busy. About 10 people bend over bikes in various stages of assembly.

Franklin Finney sits on the floor placing tiny bearing balls into a greasy ring of metal. He says he's known the Bike Collective for a while. When Finney's car got totaled, it was the impetus he needed to start going to sessions.

"The Bike Collective is awesome," Finney says.

The Bike Co-op runs on donations, and they hold a couple of benefits a month to pay expenses. "Enchantment Under the Sea," a recent underwater-themed show, paid their rent for March. Woodroof and Horn's band, Killer Whale, was among the line-up.

The collective holds a general meeting at the space every first Sunday of the month at 6:30 p.m. There are no dues or requirements, although they are especially seeking bike-knowledgeable volunteers. You can also contact them on Facebook.

Update: The Bike Collective has since renamed itself to Kick Stand and is no longer at that location.