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Recyclery Collective Bike Shop Repairs Bikes For Youths

 Darren Knox and Cameron Coates work full time to fix up donated bikes to sell and give away to those in need.
The Recyclery Collective Mechanics
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ROGERS PARK — Nobody owns the bike shop tucked away behind the Howard Street "L" station.

The Recyclery Collective, 7628 N. Paulina St., was founded years ago in a basement by members of the Reba Place Fellowship, a group of Evanston Christians living in an "intentional community."

Now the nonprofit bike shop is as much of a community institution as it is a place to fix a flat tire or a busted bike chain.

"Breaking down borders and connecting communities is the most important thing we can do here," Recyclery bike mechanic Darren Knox said.

Volunteers and full time mechanics such as Knox host classes and open the shop to the public for a couple of hours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights, when anyone is welcome to use their tools for free or for a suggested donation of $10 an hour.

"We are one of the few places for low-income people who don't have a lot to invest in their bike,"  said Knox, who describes the collective as "kind of a bike thrift shop."

Tires and tubes are sold at a discount, while the shop's refurbished bikes, only sold on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon, typically go fast for $250-$300 each.

Most customers — a mix of "nerdy bike people and low-income folks" — come from Evanston, Rogers Park and Edgewater, Knox said.

"Usually there's a line out the door." he said. "I think there's a lot to be said in offering a place where people can go and don't have to worry about having a whole lot of money — or any money."

The Recyclery partners with professional bike shops, many of which are on the North Shore, that donate used bicycles.

Sometimes the collective receives abandoned bikes from condo buildings and from Northwestern University.

On a Friday in May, hundreds of donated bikes filled half the shop's storefront, while Knox and another mechanic, Cameron Coates, worked busily on the other side greasing chains and replacing bearings.

The 27-year-old said the shop also works with groups including the Howard Area Community Center to teach youths in the neighborhood how to ride safely.

For 10- to 13-year-olds, the collective hosts a program to teach them "the idea that bikes can share the road space and do that safely," Knox said.

Participants get a free bicycle, helmet and bike lock at the end of the program.

Older youths, he said, can work at the shop through paid internships.

"Even if they don't get a job in the bike industry, they continue to volunteer," he said.

There's also a class for adults that teaches how to completely overhaul a bicycle.

That's how Coates, the other mechanic, first got involved.

He said shop's desire to help others keeps him coming back.

"It's one of the best parts of the shop, that it's a welcoming environment," he said. "That's one of the reasons it's been so successful."

In the summer, the shops sells about 10 bikes a week, which pays the bills and supports their programs, and donates two or three, Knox said.

But the numbers are much lower in the winter.

"Everyone forgets about bikes in the winter," said Knox.

"Not us," Coates was quick to add.