For this cyclist, the daily commute had become a grind. And a pop, a squeak, a scrape, and a sort of ching-ching-ching between gears.
After a summertime of abuse from the mean streets of Cambridge and Boston, my geriatric but reliable bike deserved some TLC in the hands of a real bicycle mechanic, one whose tool kit went beyond duct tape and twine.
Such service is now more convenient than ever: Quad Bikes, Harvard’s student-run, not-for-profit bicycle shop, opened earlier this month in the basement of Cabot House. Judging from the tangle of bicycles that greeted my ailing mount and I when we pedaled in, business is booming.
The Phillips Brooks House Association will hold its bike auction on Saturday (Oct. 4). The auction takes place at PBH, Harvard Yard. Viewing begins at 10 a.m., auction at noon. For information, call (617) 495-5526.
The brainchild of Tim Ledlie ’02, Quad Bikes was founded on the basic principle that a well-maintained bike is a well-used bike. By rehabilitating abandoned bikes into safe, reliable transportation and providing low-cost, convenient repairs, Ledlie and his partner, Juan Camilo “J.C.” Agudelo ’03, hope that more Harvard students and employees will take to the streets on two wheels.
The shop is putting the “cycle” into “recycle” by culling the campus for abandoned bikes, with the help of Harvard Recycling and Waste Management. About half of the bikes Quad Bikes receives are beyond repair; the shop strips them for spare parts before sending them to the bicycle graveyard. The rest, however, go under the wrench for a thorough overhaul that turns them into safe and saleable riding machines. By offering them at student-friendly prices – between $75 and $250, Ledlie estimates – Quad Bikes hopes to win some converts to bicycle commuting.
“Just from being a student here, I know that there’s great potential for more people riding bikes,” says Ledlie, who works as an aide to Cabot House Masters Jay and Cheryl Harris, as does Agudelo. “I really like the bicycle as a form of transportation. I would love more people in the country and the world to ride a bike.”
Quad Bikes also aims to stem the tide of neglect that can sideline even the most dedicated cyclist. The shop, which is an independent nonprofit that uses Harvard-donated space, offers low-cost repairs and even clinics and rental tools for would-be do-it-yourselfers.
“It’s a problem that perpetuates itself,” says Agudelo of bicycle neglect, evident by the rusted, mangled bikes that straddle campus racks. “As soon as the bike gets into the shape where you have a hesitation to ride it, it’s going to get worse.” Addressing a big part of the problem, Quad Bikes will offer off-season storage for bikes in Cabot basement, where they’ll be sheltered from the punishing New England winter.
Motivated by activism, not entrepreneurship
Although Quad Bikes made its public debut earlier this month, its founders have been working for most of the past year to drum up business and create alliances with other bike-friendly forces at Harvard. They’ve secured a contract to maintain the bikes of Harvard University Police Department’s bicycle officers, and they’re working with Harvard’s Commuter Choice and Outings and Innings to help faculty and staff take advantage of their offerings. They’ve donated three rehabbed bikes to Harvard’s other purveyor of used bicycles – Phillips Brooks House Association’s annual bike auction (Oct. 4) – and hopes to work with them in the future to ensure that the bikes being auctioned off are in safe working order.
And to head off concerns about competition and foster a spirit of cooperation, Ledlie met with the five bike shops closest to campus. All were supportive, he says, and a few went so far as to suggest that Quad Bikes might relieve their mechanics of the low-cost maintenance students need but bike shops consider a nuisance.
“None of them really think that we’ll be big enough to bother them,” says Ledlie, adding that Quad Bikes’ used bicycles will target a market far below that of the local shops.
Ledlie stresses that competition and profit are not what Quad Bikes is about. “If I wanted to make money, I wouldn’t be in the bicycle business,” he says. As if to prove his point, he returns my bike to me with new tires, an expert tune-up, and a painlessly modest price tag; it rides so effortlessly I no longer consider my daily commute exercise.
Ledlie finds his motivation in activism, not entrepreneurship. As more people at Harvard and beyond maintain and ride bicycles, he reasons, cycling will gain momentum and clout as a transportation force to be reckoned with. Ledlie adds that while Quad Bikes’ immediate impact may be local, its potential is broad.
“Kids here will go on to be influential people,” he says. “I’d like influential people to think of biking.”