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#OTGYpsi: Ypsi Bike Co-op keeps the community on wheels


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Rylee Barnsdale's Feature Article: Ypsi Bike Co-Op offers education, advocacy, and free repair help for local cyclists

Ypsi Bike Co-op on Facebook

Ypsi Bike Co-op in Instagram


Josh Hakala: You were listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community, and we bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Today, we are going to be talking about bicycles and the Ypsi Bike Co-op. Today I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on the Ypsi Bike Co-op. Rylee, thanks so much for being with us.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Josh Hakala: And joining us in studio is Yitah Wu, who is a volunteer with the Ypsi Bike Co-op. Thanks for being with us.

Yitah Wu: Glad to be here.

Josh Hakala: All right. We've got Rylee, who wrote the article. Why was the Ypsi Bike Co-op on your radar?

Rylee Barnsdale: Well, the last time that Concentrate wrote about the co-op was in 2017, and it was more to recap the group's first year helping out the community regarding things like basic bike maintenance, as well as pullover prevention and road safety. And now that the co-op is in its sixth year, we wanted to check back in and see how things have grown and changed over the years. And they really have. They've been partnering with other Ypsi orgs, like the Rutherford Pool and Mentor2Youth, as well as doing a lot of continued work with the Mutual Aid Network of Ypsilanti.

Josh Hakala: So, tell me. Since you already told their origin story in 2017, maybe catch us up to speed on how things got started.

Rylee Barnsdale: Yeah. The coolest thing I found was that it really just started out as a group of cyclists and bike enthusiasts who wanted to make others in the Ypsi community feel more empowered to ride with a specific goal of aiding those who use their bike as their primary form of transportation. Volunteers sort of rotate and change every time they put their tent up at the Ypsi farmers' markets. But there is a pretty good number of volunteers who come each week to help fix flat tires or repair bike chains and provide important cycling safety tips.

Josh Hakala: So, does the co-op....I would imagine the name would imply that the co-op operates on donations and volunteers.

Rylee Barnsdale: Yeah, it's called a co-op in name, but it is free for absolutely anyone to utilize. You know, if you need your bike fixed, you can bring it to a farmers' market and get it fixed for free, depending on what you need, but also be taught how to fix it yourself if the problem comes up again in the future. And, you know, you don't have the co-op right there to help you out. And there are volunteers that can dismantle and put together a whole bike. And there are some who only know how to put air in a tire. So, the real point of the group is to educate, so that cyclists feel more comfortable getting out on their bikes and to make sure, if your bike is what gets you everywhere you need to go, you have the skills handy to keep yourself safe and your bike in good condition.

Josh Hakala: Yitah, I see that, you know, you have your bike helmet right here. You're clearly practicing what you preach. How long have you been riding? And how long have you been a volunteer with the Ypsi Bike Co-op?

Yitah Wu: Well, I grew up in L.A. back when, you know, parents would say, just be home when the streetlights come on. And for me, in second, third, fourth grade, I would just ride all over the place. So, cycling was always like this sense of freedom and exploration. And, you know, obviously, with COVID and everything, I just started riding so much more. And then I discovered the bike co-op a couple of years ago. So, I've been volunteering with them for a little over two years now. And, you know, I've always worked on my own bikes from probably starting from middle school. So, when I found this location where you could help people, you could work on bikes and people talk about bikes and all the, you know, geeky stuff with chain rings and gear ratios. I was like, you know, "I'm in!"

Josh Hakala: Well, I mean, it sounds like, you know, your way around a bike. What is your role, typically, when when you're out there helping people?

Yitah Wu: I do a lot of the mechanical stuff. I'm an engineer originally, and so, like I said, I really enjoy the mechanical, the fixing part. And, obviously, when people come in, we try to not just fix something, but whether it's a brake adjustment or a flat tire. But we also want to let them know this really isn't that complicated. You can do this on your own, and this is how you do it. We also get volunteers of differing skill levels. Some just really want to get involved and don't know a lot about bikes, but most of the stuff is is pretty straightforward. So, of course, we help them learn, and then, they can help others.

Josh Hakala: Yeah. So, if somebody comes in, maybe someone that looks a lot like me who maybe doesn't know how to tune up a bike or anything, you will give them the tools they need to maybe learn to do it on their own and take matters into their own hands.

Yitah Wu: Yes. Yeah. So, like I said, as we're doing it, we try to tell them what we're doing. Obviously, there's other things with bike fit. And a lot of times, for example, people come in with their seats to low to be comfortable for long distances. For example, you know, a bike can be very uncomfortable if you're going 2 to 3 blocks. It's not a big deal. But if you're going several miles, then it really does help to have the handlebars and the seat in a efficient and comfortable position. And, you know, of course, we try to make it very accessible. We try to explain it in a very simple way. I think a lot of people get intimidated by bicycles the same way they get intimidated by car mechanics. They go in, and the mechanic says a bunch of stuff and they say, "I don't know what you just said except the $600 part." So, yeah, I think they get very apprehensive about mechanical things that they don't understand. So, we try to simplify everything and make it understandable.

Josh Hakala: That sounds like you just quoted me at the last time I went to the mechanic. So, yeah, that's exactly what I do. And what, as one of the co-op's resident mechanics, what are some of the most common things that you see in bikes that maybe people don't realize are important? You mentioned the like having the seat in the right position for longer treks. But what do you see most commonly with the issues with bikes that people bring in?

Yitah Wu: I'd say the most common thing is probably tire inflation and brakes. And the tire inflation, I think a lot of people don't really understand that like car tires, the air leaks out very slowly. So, if you're not topping off your air every four, six weeks or so, you're going to eventually be riding on a tire that's too low. And then, that leaves you very vulnerable to, like, hitting a pothole and getting a flat tire. If the tire pressure gets even lower, the valve stem can get pinched over, and that can cause a flat just by itself. As the brake pads wear, you have to readjust them. And then, I guess the third thing, we see a lot of rusty chains. Now, rust on the outside is just cosmetic. But if a chain is squeaking, that usually isn't a good sign. And so, I think there are some of the basic maintenance items are what we see. We don't see a lot of your major structural, you know, problems. It's just a sort of thing where people know that if you have a car, you've got to check the oil. You have to, you know, make sure your fluids are topped up. But on bikes, they don't realize that you have to oil chains several times a year, top off the air, and make tune-ups on the brakes.

Josh Hakala: All right. You're listening to On the Ground Ypsi on WEMU. I'm joined by Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale and Yitah Wu from the Ypsi Bike Co-op. And tell me a little bit about the mission of the Ypsi Bike Co-op. We've talked a little bit about it here. But, just overall, I know that one of the issues is you want to try to eliminate all barriers for entry.

Yitah Wu: I'd say the overarching mission is really just to keep the community on wheels for a lot of people, especially if, you know, we have a lot of disadvantaged people in the Ypsi community. Taking your bike into a bike store for a tune-up, that can be $60, $70 without parts, and that could be quite a barrier to getting maintenance done. So, we want people to be on the road with their bike. We want them to be safe. And so, operating with just volunteers and donations, if someone comes in with a flat or needs a brake tune-up or they need new brake pads or, you know, some other significant work, we basically do our best to help them. And the cost is not an issue to the extent that, you know, if this person isn't really able to provide a donation, that's fine. We really just want to see them out on the road.

Josh Hakala: And I understand you've partnered with a number of organizations, as Rylee mentioned, to try to get out in the community and sort of just make your organization more available to those who need your help. But can you talk about some of the partnerships you've developed recently?

Yitah Wu: Ah yes. Starting this year, we have been working with the Mutual Aid Network. We had done some events with them last year, but, this year, we are actually at their pullover prevention events every month. So, that actually gives us the challenge of having to support two events simultaneously, because those days are actually on Saturdays when we also have our normal co-op hours at the Freighthouse.

Josh Hakala: There's been a lot of emphasis on bike accessibility. I know there's been a big push for that in Ann Arbor. Are you starting to see that in Ypsilanti as well?

Yitah Wu: Well, I certainly think we've seen a lot more infrastructure on Huron. They've just added some lanes with bollards that separate the traffic from the bike lane. One of the larger barriers to cycling is safety and the feeling of safety. So, a lot of people say they would ride more if they felt there was a safe place to ride. On Cross Street, there is a nice bike path that runs along EMU, and they've added a lot more to the B2B trails, so now, not only can you get from Huron all the way down to Michigan and the park there. So, there's a lot of these connections that are being made, and, at some point, you reach a critical mass where people feel that they can actually get to most places on their bike.

Josh Hakala: Now, that's got to be a big part of the education process is to educate people on how to get around. Because I feel like, maybe from my generation, you're just like, "Oh, you just hop on the sidewalk and you're fine, you know?" But now, like, there's more of an emphasis on using those bike lanes and being part of traffic. And that seems like a big part of the education process.

Yitah Wu: Yeah, yeah. The thing about sidewalks, if you're going at walking speed, the sidewalk is fine. But most cyclists, you're going to be going 2 to 3 times as fast. And once you hit around 15 miles an hour or so, which is probably a good three times what walking speed is, but not a bad pace for a bicycle, you are definitely not safe to be on the sidewalk because cars coming out of driveways, cars pulling into driveways, they don't see you and they're not looking for you. And when they do see you, they don't realize how fast you're actually going. So, they may see you from, you know, half the block back. And then, they want to pull that driveway, and they don't realize that, in that time, that they've slowed down to take that driveway. You're there.

Josh Hakala: Are you seeing more of an awareness with the people that you talk to about these this new bike lanes and having to make sure that you're part of traffic. I have to imagine that is a tough thing to adjust to. I mean, sometimes, you're in a turn lane to get there right alongside the cars.

Yitah Wu: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think it's a challenge. I think we, basically, just try to emphasize that they are safer going with the flow of traffic and being on the street. But there's just, I think, there's always going to be a fear of cars. I mean, cars weigh 4500 pounds, are going 45, 50 miles an hour. So, being on a bike next to that is always intimidating. A bike lane with three inches of paint separating you from an active lane of traffic, that really is not a good long-term solution.

Josh Hakala: Are you seeing things shift a little bit? I know the relationship between bikes and cars has been a bit, we'll say, adversarial. Have you seen that improve a bit? Have drivers started to adjust to having more bikes on the road?

Yitah Wu: It's hard to say. You know, in Ann Arbor, we talk about bike lash. Drivers are becoming resentful of, for example, streets where bike lanes have taken away lanes of traffic. But I think they are more aware, and they are more accommodating, even as they may yell more things out their windows.

Josh Hakala: There's a lot of that. I have seen and heard. So, if you could get out your crystal ball, what do you see as the future of the bike riding community in Ypsilanti and how things are developing?

Yitah Wu: I think it's just going to go better from here. In particular, the proximity to Ann Arbor, I think, has a huge boost. There are a lot of people in Ann Arbor who are opting for bikes instead of cars, and we see them at the co-op. These are people that they say, you know, getting around town is just easier on a bike. You don't have to worry about traffic. You don't have to worry about all the costs. And being that close to Ann Arbor, there's just going to be a spillover from all the cyclists.

Josh Hakala: So, if people want to get involved with a co-op or if they need some help with their bike, how do they get in touch?

Yitah Wu: So, we're at the Ypsilanti Farmers' Market next to the Freighthouse on Saturdays from 9 to 1. And, basically, every Saturday that isn't immediately next to a holiday from, I believe, April through October, we are there. Look for the tent. It's a white tent, and we've got a large sign with our logo, Ypsi Bike Co-op. And feel free to drop in. We're also on Facebook. Just search for Ypsi Bike Co-op and drop us a line.

Josh Hakala: All right. Yitah Wu from the Ypsi Bike Co-op. And, as always, Rylee Barnsdale from Concentrate Media. Thank you so much for joining us today on On the Ground Ypsi.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks Josh.

Yitah Wu: Thanks again.

Josh Hakala: If you'd like to listen to past episodes of On the Ground Ypsi or would like to listen to an extended version of today's interview, you can find it on our website at WEMU dot org. This is On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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