Green Bike Co-Op keeps on the move

Curt Werner, the lead coordinator for the Green Bike Co-Op in Waldport, works on a bike in the shop. Green Bike has been in operation for 14 years.

The volunteers at Green Bike Co-Op in Waldport are doing their best to keep south county residents on the road.

In operation for 14 years, Green Bike offers free bikes and a bike repair service, with donations welcome and proceeds supporting Seashore Family Literacy programs, which serves families throughout south Lincoln County.

Rick Hill, of Seal Rock, longtime volunteer and former lead coordinator at Green Bike, said the co-op was founded by John Mare, who had seen bike share programs in Amsterdam and thought they would work in Waldport. He came home, bought bikes at garage sales, painted them green, and placed them around town, with the idea that people could pick up a bike, use it, and leave it for others to share.

“It took off,” Hill said. “People started donating bikes, and they got flooded with them. John called for volunteers, and we had kids in the after-school program working at the bike shop. We didn’t have tools to speak of, but we started learning how to fix bikes. We repaired them free, and people gave us donations. It’s a very strong, community-supported group.”

And why the name? Hill gave three reasons — green is the color of the Waldport High School Fightin’ Irish sports teams, the color references respect for ecology and the environment, and green paint was on sale at Copeland Lumber at the time.

At its peak, Green Bike had 100 bikes in its ride share program, but they often ended up in the bushes or upriver. “When one bike had to be retired, we would find another one, paint it green, and replace it,” Hill recalled. “We did that for several years.”

At the same time, Hill said the co-op began getting requests for bikes from homeless residents and from others who had no means of transportation. A bike loan program on the honor system began, valid for as long as the rider lived in south county. 

And as time passed, the co-op evolved into a multi-service bike shop with tune-ups, rentals, repairs, loaners, sales, use of tools and bike maintenance classes.

“We started selling the repaired bikes, anywhere from $25 to $100,” Hill said, noting he and another volunteer became certified bike mechanics.

But after about 10 years, the damage to and disappearance of the green bikes took its toll on the ride share program. It still exists, but the ride-sharing bikes are no longer painted green. Twenty or 30 are out on the road at present, bearing stickers denoting the ride share program.

“We still offer ‘green’ bikes, but with the reduced number of bike donations, we don’t have too many to put out to replace the ones that are damaged or disappear,” said Curt Werner, the current lead coordinator at the co-op. “They are vulnerable to misuse or disappearance. Now we put out only one or two a week.”

The nonprofit recently repaired nine children’s bikes for Olalla Center in Toledo, and does similar maintenance for bikes at the Yachats after-school program. Green Bikes collects bicycles for young children throughout the year and repaints and restores them to give to local families in need at Christmas.

Every year, the bike co-op makes a donation to Seashore Family Literacy — in the past two years, that totaled $15,000 annually. And the co-op holds an annual bike rodeo for youth, complete with obstacle courses and safety lessons, in Siletz. 

The bike co-op recently received a $2,500 grant from the Siletz Tribal Charitable Contribution Grant Program. Hill said the money was used to replace worn out equipment used in bike repairs.

“The grant is so nice because we’d worn out a lot of tools over the years, and they needed to be upgraded,” Hill said. “And as we work on better quality bikes, we needed to upgrade our tools.”

The flow of donated bikes has slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “During the pandemic, people have flocked to the co-op to buy, rent, tune up or borrow bikes,” Hill said. “Outdoor exercise seems to be filling a need when normal areas of recreation, like parks, restaurants, gyms and theaters are closed. With schools also closed, parents are anxious to get their kids out of the house. In some cases, entire families ask for bikes.

“Because of COVID, we are exempted from having to close because we provide transportation,” Hill said. “And we’ve sold more bikes and fixed more bikes in the last three months than we did all year.”

“Between bikes going out, fewer coming in and fewer staff, we’re feeling the effect of the virus,” Werner added. “Biking has become really popular as people stay home. The last four or five days, we’ve had double the number of repairs coming in than normal for this time of year.”

But Hill doesn’t think they will run out of inventory. “A lot of people who bought bikes to get exercise have aged out or never got into it, and there are families where the kids have grown up and moved out and left their bikes behind,” he said. 

The busiest facet of the co-op’s offerings is bike repair. Because the co-op does not charge for labor, repairs cost significantly less than in a standard bicycle shop. “People often give us a big donation,” Hill said. “They’re getting a heck of a deal.”

In addition to more bikes, Hill said more volunteers are needed. Before COVID-19, the shop had five or six, but is now down to two retirees.

“We could use another volunteer or two,” Hill said, noting they do not have to be bike mechanics. Men and women of all ages are welcome. A police background check is required.

Werner and Hill enjoy their time at the co-op. “We’re keeping the bikes on the road for people who couldn’t afford to use a full bike shop — we’re a service to the community,” Werner said.

The co-op will also fix wheelbarrows, walkers, wheelchairs and golf carts. Unless a specialized part is required, “we probably can get it to function, and labor is by donation,” Werner said.

Green Bike Co-op is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on U.S. Highway 101 behind Espresso 101 and near Chubby’s, across the street from Hi-School Pharmacy. Its formal address is 115 Arrow (Highway 101), and its phone number is 541-563-7328. 

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