“I hate this vehicle,” Chris Jaszewski said, motioning to the prone orange and silver mountain bike, lying on its side with a gimpy derailleur.
“The industry only makes them for recreation purposes,” he said, shaking his head. “They’re not really, truly built for transportation.”
Jaszewski has been fixing bicycles for decades. The South Side native began bicycling seriously while attending UW-Milwaukee in the 1970s.
“I was bicycling back and forth from my home near the airport up to the north shore. I graduated from UWM with a geology degree,” he said thoughtfully, removing the derailleur with fellow mechanic Kelly Krachtt. “But I had no interest in any of the industries I was supposed to get jobs with. Big oil and coal, mainly.”
His curriculum vitae includes the St. Vincent de Paul meal program “since the 1970s. I bounced around in the 1980s. In the 1990s, I worked for Casa Maria Catholic Worker House. I spent much of the next decade in hospice care for a close friend,” he says, wiping his hands.
To donate or assist with the Southside Bicycle Co-op, contact Beth Hohenfeldt, (414) 462-7837, ext. 106 or email@example.com.
Krachtt removed a couple links from the bicycle chain and tightened it.
The duo stepped back from their work. A cacophony drifted up from the building’s basement, where the St. Vincent de Paul evening meal program is in full swing.
Krachtt spun the bicycle’s crank gingerly, then increasingly faster. He flipped the bicycle over. It’s fixed.
From parts to whole
The Southside Bicycle Co-op operates out of a cavernous room on the second floor of the St. Vincent de Paul building at 931 W. Madison St., in the shadow of the Rockwell Automation clocktower.
The office is laden with bicycle parts in bowls, boxes, buckets, cans and containers. The work benches are full of screwdrivers, wrenches, vices and duct tape. The walls are draped with newspaper articles about cycling, bicycle events, winter cycling tips and local bicycle route maps. In one corner, an experimental test model the co-op developed is up on blocks.
In an adjacent room is a legion of wounded – bicycles with every imaginable injury and damage – surrounded by a fleet of donated bicycles, and heaps of rims, mounds of inner tubes and piles of tires. There is even a recumbent three wheeler – a rare bird indeed.
People trickle up before, during or after eating to get help with problems simple and complex, and to get mobile. All free of charge.
|People of Faith
Name: Chris Jaszewski
Co-op is joint effort
“You can’t pin this on me,” Jaszewski said. “There’s six of us mechanics here. And a lot of people helped get the co-op opened. Two of the mechanics – Hoagie and David – have had a shop in the neighborhood for well over 20 years. They do incredible reassembling jobs. They
know everybody. Ed Cenefelt also works with us.”
“I’ve been working with these guys for years,” said mechanic James Laes. “In an official capacity though, it’s only been for several months. We handle bicycles and parts that people bring, find or donate. Parts, tires, spokes, brakes, hub assembly.”
Jaszewski estimated that they can finish about five bicycles an evening.
“We do cables, brakes, gear levers and switches. We do a lot of derailleurs. Broken and snapped chains. Bent rims. Neighborhood kids say ‘the rim is wopped.’ We’re purists; we’ll take the spokes out, straighten it on a vice and put it all back together,” he said.
“We also do scooters and walkers,” Krachtt said, “Which is a bigger need than you’d imagine. You wouldn’t believe some of the walkers people bring in here. Banged up, all kinds of broken, dragged through mud.”
“We’ll work on anything,” he said, stripping an inner tube and tire off a rim with his bare hand, in one smooth, even pull. “Everything we do is free. We’re here for free. We work for free. Whatever trickles in is what we work on and what we use.”
Began with clinic
According to Jaszewski, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was renting the space from the Social Development Commission, but when the SDC vacated the building, the Vincentians purchased it.
The bike repair co-op began with a Saturday morning clinic last May.
“We set up shop out front, and – boy – we were out there all day, fixing bicycles for everyone that came by. People came all day,” he said. “Eventually the folks inside helped us out with coffee, drinks, donuts and all that.”
“A lot of people helped us get up and running,” he added. “The key was (Marquette University’s) Urban Anthropology Inc. They wrote us a testimonial and sent it to St. Vincent de Paul headquarters. Lisa Bray helped us get more backing. Greg Hannon, of St. Vincent de Paul, poo poo’d the idea originally, but he’s actually become a big supporter.”
Once the program began, the work has been steady, according to Jaszewski.
“Since then, boy, we’ve been working all day, every day. Lots of people ride year round,” he said. “Serving the community is really our purpose for existing.”
Laes said he volunteers for the enjoyment of it.
“I just like working with these guys. I’ve known them for years. We joke. We got manly banter. It’s just fun,” he said.
Best part is seeing looks on faces
Krachtt agreed, but added that, “the best part is seeing the looks on people’s faces as they’re riding out. It’s the same as me. It’s always good to get back on the road again.”
For Jaszewski, repairing bikes is a way to live his faith.
“I’ve been Catholic all my life,” Jaszewski says. “I think this co-op is a way of living my faith.”
“I’d like to see more bicycling year round,” Jaszewski says. “Also, a lot of people cannot ride. We’d like to get more people on tandem bicycles and/or three wheel cycles. But those would need to be donated. Of course, any extra bicycles people bring, we’ll give away.”
Those are but a few of the co-op’s needs, plans and dreams.
“We could use a ton of parts and tools,” Krachtt said. “We get some donated. Management’s gotten us gift cards in the past. And we can always use help, too. We’ve got plenty of bicycles coming through, and help is always limited. Plus, sometimes our priority is with the meal program. If I’m not up here, I’m downstairs hauling crates of food.”
They advertise through fliers and word of mouth, but may create an Internet site.
“We’d also like to start another branch up at the St. Vincent de Paul on the north side” (2601 N. Martin Luther King drive),” he said. “The end goal is ultimately to provide bicycles for anyone that wants one,” he added. “The world would be a better place.”