Troy Media publisher Doug Firby and Travel editor Lisa Monforton are part of a group of Canadians who call themselves ConnecTour. Starting in May in British Columbia and ending in October in Newfoundland, they hope to make an 8,000-km bicycle journey across the country, discovering how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our lives and our sense of community. Watch for their reports on Troy Media. More information on the cycling tour is available at ConnecTour.ca. To help them meet their goal, click here.
As we’re about to set up our bicycle clinic on the legislative grounds in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, we hear a loud bang coming from the vicinity of where Donald Street crosses the Assiniboine River.
Kevin Celestino, a member of our event partner – The Wrench – quickly realizes a bicycle tire has blown and he heads off in a sprint to offer assistance. Two minutes later, he’s back with a young woman named Andrea, a shredded tire, and a bicycle that looks like it’s seen better days.
Andrea doesn’t seem to realize it just yet, but her misfortune couldn’t have come at a better time. The Wrench and members of the ConnecTour team have assembled on a late Friday morning in July to help anyone who needs to get their bikes going again or just get them running smoother.
Over the next two hours we’ll be lubing chains, changing tires, adjusting derailers, straightening parts, fixing brakes and educating bike riders on how to do basic maintenance on their machines. Then we sat down with a small group of adventure-seekers to tell some of the many stories from our nearly two months on the road.
As not-for-profit cycling groups go, The Wrench – short for Winnipeg Repair Education ’N’ Cycling Hub – is in a highly evolved state. With funding from the federal government, community foundations and donors, it has grown since its founding in 2010 to a staff of 15, plus additional people who build bikes from recovered discards on an occasional basis. Paid staff is bolstered by an army of 35 volunteers.
The Wrench stores hundreds of bikes and various parts in a large garage in the city-owned building it occupies, said Gregory Allan, group education co-ordinator. The intention is to get as many of those bicycles into good working order as possible and get them into the hands of young people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to own one.
It runs programs in partnership with schools and youth organizations. The idea, says Allan, is to empower youth and other members of the community to engage in healthy living practices, develop useful skills and build self-confidence.
Its programs include Earn-a-Bike, a series of workshops in which participants rebuild a bike and get to keep it; Youth Bike Builders, which trains bicycle maintenance; and outreach workshops, which are conducted with schools, community centres and youth agencies. There’s also a program called Just Cycle, which supports kids who find themselves involved in the justice system, says Allan.
The group also sells rebuilt bikes through its outlet at The Forks, with the money being used to support its programs.
Today, however, we’re fixing bikes for free to build some community goodwill. Andrea is impatient to get her bike going because she’s late to meet with friends. But Kevin has to zip home to find a tire and wheel that will fit her bike. By the time we’re done, Andrea has a new tire and a new wheel mounted at no charge to her. The seized gear shifter will have to wait for another day.
“You guys have saved a life,” she says when her wheels are finally ready to go. The Wrench has won over one more fan in a city that seems to have taken a shine to urban cycling.
After a short layover in Winnipeg, the ConnecTour crew is now in northern Ontario. Watch for more adventures from the road.
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media. For interview requests, click here.
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