I regularly volunteer with the Bike Dump, one of several volunteer-run, non-profit bicycle shops here in Winnipeg.
What makes these places -- and the Bike Dump in particular -- different from most commercial bike shops is their explicit mandate to educate and empower bike riders. The Bike Dump is a shop that deals in mentorship rather than parts and service. We volunteers, for instance, do everything possible to not work on client's bikes. Our role, rather, is teach people how bikes work and so enable them to do the work themselves.
The plethora of parts, arcane measurements, and specialized tools of bike repair can be intimidating for novices. Moreover, bike shops have an often-deserved reputation for being both obnoxiously exclusive of newcomers and misogynist with respect to women riders and mechanics. The mentorship model at the Dump tries to work against these trends by asking volunteers to respect clients' inexperience and to encourage them to learn at their own pace. A characteristic rule for volunteers insists that we never take a tool out of a client's hand. The Dump strives to be an inclusive, anti-oppressive space at all times but also runs an explicitly women- and queer-only evening on Mondays to be as welcoming as possible to folks who may have been alienated by the overly masculine culture of more traditional bike shops.
The Dump is very much a product of Winnipeg's relatively poor North End community, and its services are intended to support and empower clients living in poverty. Payment is for parts only, and is minimal and even optional in most cases. No one gets turned away for lack of funds.This means that we see a lot of clients who couldn't possibly afford new bikes or professional bike repairs, and for whom having a functional bicycle is their only alternative to walking.
Bicycles have the capacity to make a huge difference in marginalized lives. Free and active transportation opens the door to farther-flung job opportunities and services as well as exercise and better health. The Bike Dump offers, in addition to simple, workable transportation, the self-sufficiency and confidence that comes from understanding the basics of how bikes work and how to work on bikes.