KC Cares: 816 Bicycle Collective

Stefano Merced, 17, Works On His Bike At The 816 Bicycle Collective.

Stefano Merced, 17, works on his bike at the 816 Bicycle Collective. // Photo by Beth Lipoff

Want to fix that busted chain on your bike? Learn how to perform maintenance yourself for the next time something breaks? Or perhaps get rid of a bicycle that’s just been cluttering up your garage for years?

The 816 Bicycle Collective is ready for you.

The non-profit, located at 518 E. 31st Street in Kansas City, works toward making bikes a sustainable primary mode of transportation that’s easy on the environment and people’s budgets.

That can mean teaching people about bike repairs and bike maintenance, fixing up donated bikes to sell at a reduced rate, or distributing free bikes to people who truly need them. 

Founded by Suzanne Hogan, Sean Eagan, and a few of their friends about 15 years ago, the group runs completely on volunteer power. Going in, Hogan had experience with a community bike shop in Santa Fe, N.M., and Eagan wanted to learn more about fixing bikes.

“What we basically started trying to do was help get people bikes and redistribute the existing stock of unused bikes, and also teach people how to maintain them so that they have something that is personally sustainable as transportation,” Eagan says.  

Just like your teachers at school, they won’t do the work for you. It’s all about helping you figure out how to do it.

“If you’re trying to keep your bike afloat, and you want to learn to do it yourself or even if you know how to do it but maybe don’t have the resources, we’re the place for that. You can come, donate money, and use our facilities,” Eagan says.

Inside the shop are rows and rows of bikes that volunteers have fixed up and are ready to go. It’s an informal space with tools and small parts sorted and ready in plastic bins and coffee cans, in cabinets and on tables. 

Need to hoist your bike up on a stand? They’ve got frames for that too. Light streams in from the large windows, making it easier to find that screw you might have dropped mid-repair. Bare wood floors and peeling paint just mean that every spare dollar goes into what they do, not how fancy the room aesthetics are. 

The money they get from selling donated bikes they fix up all goes toward keeping the doors open, but they’ll work with people who can’t necessarily pay the suggested purchase price.

“If you don’t have any money, and you really need a bike because you don’t have anything, we’re going to get you a bike,” Eagan says. “There’s a spectrum of ways you can get a bike at the bike collective.”

You might show up with a damaged bike and learn how to fix it up, with help and materials at the collective. If you can’t find one on your own, they have damaged bikes that people have donated that need a little love. They want you to put in the work, but the volunteers are there every step of the way to teach, coach and help.

If someone’s desperate for a bike to commute to work but can’t afford one, they’ll find one the person can have. It might not be the nicest one they’re selling, but it’ll do the job.

Altogether, Eagan says that they’ve distributed at least 1,000 bikes in the last seven years, but he thinks the actual number is a lot higher than that.

Volunteer Andrew Killen helps Stefano Merced, 17, work on his bike at the 816 Bicycle Collective.

Volunteer Andrew Killen helps Stefano Merced, 17, work on his bike at the 816 Bicycle Collective. // Photo by Beth Lipoff

Recently, 17-year-old Stefano Merced came by the collective with his teacher, Andrew Killen, who volunteers with the collective. Killen has a bike club for students at East High School and has encouraged his students to use the collective as a resource.

“You’re surrounded by all this stuff you like. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Merced says.

You don’t have to have any experience with bikes to volunteer. And it’s totally fine if you come needing help and don’t know even the most basic bike maintenance.

“Anyone can come to us. There is no threshold of knowledge one must have,” Eagan says. 

Since the pandemic started, they’ve gotten five new regular volunteers, including local pastry chef Nichole Taylor.

“Learning that it’s relatively easy to repair simple issues yourself—it’s very empowering to know this machine you’re riding, you know the parts, and you know how to fix it if any issues arise,” Taylor says.

The 816 Bicycle Collective’s clientele encompasses a spectrum of locals. One client might have access to more expensive forms of transportation but prefers to bike. Another might live on the street. But everyone gets the same access to help.

Often, those with greater means will donate money or materials to the shop. Materials you donate can be new or used.

“We’re like the stop of last resort for a bike. If the bike’s going to end up in the scrapyard, and we also believe it should end up in the scrapyard, we’ll at least take off what on the bike is usable still,” Eagan says. “There are so many different opportunities to help at our shop, and one of those things is tearing down bikes.” 

Categories: Culture