Advocacy Group Bikemore Looks to Keep Baltimore Rolling

Children from low-income and minority households, particularly blacks and Hispanics, are more likely to bike or walk to school than whites or higher-income students. Unfortunately, lower-income neighborhoods also tend to be lacking when it comes to access for servicing broken bikes.

In Baltimore, that means most brick-and-mortar bike shops are in the "White L", which is the whiter, more affluent section of central and southeast Baltimore City. For those residing in the less affluent “Black Butterfly” neighborhoods in east, west, and south Baltimore, a flat tire may mean you’re flat out of luck when it comes to getting a repair.

Bikemore Goes Mobile

To address this issue, Bikemore -- an advocacy organization for livable streets and community cycling -- started a free Mobile Bike Shop program that targets these underserved areas.

The Mobile Bike Shop consists of a Bikemore staffer and a team of seasonally hired bike mechanics that travel to various neighborhoods getting kids and adults rolling again. They also demonstrate that biking and bike repair is for everyone, regardless of what neighborhood you live in. Often the barrier to riding is a simple, quick low-cost repair like fixing a flat tire or adjusting brakes. Bikemore also encourages visitors to help out with the fix, teaching them the skills and language associated with bike repair.

When the program started, the team used a rental Zipvan to haul the various equipment, including a standard mechanic toolset, two bike stands, pumps, tires, a wide range of tubes, boxes of shift wire/brake wire, two folding tables, and a popup tent.

But after receiving a grant from the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development, Bikemore planned to purchase a step van to get the gear around; they also considered going with an e-cargo bike and trailer solution.

While the step van would be more convenient for quick set-up and break-down and allow for more storage; it would have required a larger storage solution; significantly higher insurance, gas, and maintenance costs; and would have been less environmentally friendly.

So Bikemore decided to live what it advocates and went with a Tern GSD e-bike combined with a Bikes At Work 64AW trailer. The decision also meant the organization saved tens of thousands of dollars, all money that can go into paying more for mechanics, staff, and advocacy.

COVID-19 Changes Everything in 2020

Although Bikemore acquired its Tern GSD in 2020, the global pandemic has put the free Mobile Bike Shop service on hold. Still, like most other e-cargo bike owners, Bikemore soon learned that if you have a utility bike, you’ll find a use for it. 

The GSD is currently being used on a daily basis by volunteers to deliver food to vulnerable seniors in their homes (in partnership with Civic Works, the Franciscan Center, and United Workers). Staff also use the bike to deliver and install traffic calming infrastructure to local businesses that need additional physical distancing space for outdoor retail and dining. 

With multiple riders using the bike every day, the staff has quickly come to appreciate the adjustable cockpit on the GSD. And having dual batteries on the GSD means the e-bike has the capacity and range to get a lot done. 

Bikemore has even demonstrated the GSD at a local compost collective, inspiring them to explore cargo bikes for curbside compost pickup and delivery to local urban farms.

And eventually, the plan is to get the bike back into the neighborhoods of Baltimore to teach the next generation of riders how to change a flat tire.