With its picturesque surrounding hills and well-maintained bike lanes, Silicon Valley has long been known as a biker’s paradise.
Of course, that’s only true for people who can afford bicycles as a transportation medium. Those who can’t can turn to the Silicon Valley Bicycle Exchange.
SVBE has served Mountain View, Palo Alto and surrounding communities since 1993, with the central mission of repairing and donating bikes to communities that may not be able to afford them.
The organization donated 1,037 bikes last year, which were repaired largely by organization volunteers. Most repairs take place during regularly-occurring volunteering events on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. There, returning volunteers come together to repair bikes and teach newcomers how to assess and mechanically fix bikes.
The organization’s volunteers are also made up of local teens. A sizable percentage of these volunteers come into the shop after school hours, out of their own interest in bike repair and to fulfill community service requirements, according to Executive Director Andrew Yee.
One of these students, Gunn High School senior Shree Sandilya, was inspired to establish a Bicycle Exchange club at his school after volunteering in the main shop, where he spent almost an entire summer learning to repair bikes.
“I thought there was a lot of potential to bring the same mission to my campus, given how many students and teachers alike I knew shared a passion for this field,” Sandilya said.
During Bicycle Exchange club meetings, members will come together to eat lunch, repair bikes donated by students and parents and sell bike accessories. Since its founding three years ago, the club has also worked with the SVBE, Gunn PTSA and bike repair company Velofix to organize on-campus bike repair events. In the past four years, Sandilya and his club have repaired and donated over 400 bicycles.
Some club members are also regular faces at the SVBE’s shop in Palo Alto, after being encouraged by Sandilya to expand their involvement in bike repair.
“If you consistently spend two, three hours in the shop, you will gain not only greater technical skills, but also an appreciation for the value of bikes and the intricate repair process they require,” Sandilya said.
The bulk of the SVBE’s fundraising efforts come from retailing bikes, and employs a full-time shop manager to direct that process. Last year, the organization sold around 300 bikes through its online and in-person shop. While SVBE volunteers repair all the bikes that come through the shop’s doors, distribution is handled by partner organizations.
“[The shop manager] and I have been in the bike industry for a long time, so we quickly have a sense for whether something is worth selling or is just the perfect bike to donate,” Yee said. “If a partner organization comes to us with a request for a certain bike, we’ll pull the price tag right off and donate it, if we have it.”
Occasionally, bike donors will specify whether or not they would like their bikes to be sold. However, according to Yee, if a higher-end bike is donated, the donor’s expectation is usually that their bike will be resold.
For now, the SVBE has several short-term aspirations on its path. Namely, to establish its recent “Bike Swap Meet and Sale” event as an annual staple, which took place in September. In the long-term, the organization hopes to secure a longer real estate agreement with its current renter, or one day purchase its own location to continue fulfilling its mission for years to come.
“With local bike shops really struggling, I think it’s in everyone’s interest, from local residents, communities and governments, to make sure local bike shops are still around,” Yee said. “That the SVBE provides safe and reliable bikes is invaluable to the local community and especially those who are in need of affordable transportation.”