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Meet Paul Fitzgerald of Working Bikes in Little Village

Today we’d like to introduce you to Paul Fitzgerald.

Paul, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Working Bikes was founded in 1999 by Lee Ravenscroft and Amy Little as a project in sustainability and global solidarity. Lee began rescuing bicycles that would be sold for scrap metal and collecting them to save enough for a shipment to friends in El Salvador and Nicaragua. With the help of volunteers, Lee and Amy began selling some of the bicycles to students to raise funds for the shipping costs.

Through the years, bicycle donations to Working Bikes steadily increased, as did international and local partnerships. After several transitional storage spaces as well as a storefront near Taylor and Western, the organization moved all operations to a former furniture warehouse at 2434 S. Western. Working Bikes currently collects more than 12,000 donated bicycles a year. Of those bicycles more than 6,500 are shipped as raw materials to community bicycle projects in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America. Another 1,500+ bicycles are donated in the Chicago community through Working Bikes’ Cycle of Power and Cycle of Peace programs. More than 90% of Working Bikes’ program budget is earned through the sale of refurbished bicycles in the organization’s storefront bicycle shop.

Working Bikes volunteers include corporate groups from SRAM, Cars.com, Nielson group, and Radio Flyer as well as student groups from Indiana State University, Curie Metropolitan High School, Benito Juarez High School, Johnson School of Excellence. A large number of volunteers are individuals who come to one of five walk-in sessions to improve their mechanical skills and share a love of bicycling with the larger community. Volunteers load shipping containers and repair bicycles for local donation on Tuesday evenings from 5-9pm and Wed, Fri and Sat from 12-5pm. We host WTF! Night on Thursdays from 5-9pm, it is a volunteer session exclusively for women, transgender, and gender non-conforming volunteers.

Has it been a smooth road?
It can be a struggle to grow an organization and maintain a consistent commitment to the values at its inception.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Working Bikes is able to best utilize donated bicycles to their highest potential. The organization has deepened its relationships with local organizations such as the North Lawndale Community Restorative Justice Hub and Esperanza Community Health while also taking better care of the needs of our international partners. Senior mechanic, Patrick Tivnan, is currently in Bwindi Uganda assisting in the training and implementation of a women-run bike shop which currently has more than 800 bikes which Working Bikes has donated.

Working Bikes is also the best place in Chicago to purchase a reconditioned, warrantied used bike for beginning and veteran cyclists! Our service department can fix anything which can be brought back and utilize used parts to fit any budget.

The Cycle of Power program donates bicycles to Chicagoans in need too! Cycle of Power partners include Veteran’s groups, housing organizations, Refugee resettlement organizations, agencies which specialize in Ex-offender reentry and more! Working Bikes understands the value of sustainable transportation and the ability of a bicycle to be transformative to an individual or organization which may have not previously understood the potential.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Chicago is a cyclist’s dream! Flat and with a well laid out grid system (thanks Daniel Burnham!), Chicago is like a collection of small villages which is ideal to explore. Chicago’s blue-collar ethos and generous citizens also make it an ideal place to launch a project which depends on “in-kind” donations, and enthusiastic volunteers.

Pricing:

  • Most refurbished bikes average about $225
  • Beach cruisers start at about $80
  • High end road bikes start at about $300

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Phil Kaplan, Paul Fitzgerald, Rhonda Bausley, Steve Irwin

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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