An open letter…

Posted: Sunday, December 26, 2010 by greeni in news/events

Dear Reader,

Becycle is moving. We  thought that we should use the opportunity to write to you, explain our project a bit more clearly perhaps, and ask for your future support and involvement. So please bear with us while we tell you a bit about ourselves, our history, our mode of operation, our motives and our aims.

Becycle is a grass-roots bicycle project that is based on an open-source model. It was launched in November 2006 mainly by students of the University of Aberdeen and to this day is run solely by enthusiastic volunteers from all walks of life. As such, Becycle belongs entirely to the public domain and operates on minimal funds and resources with a strong re-cycling ethos. Nevertheless, it provides a fully equipped workshop and a free bicycle lending scheme that functions as a centre for a steadily growing network of cyclists across Aberdeenshire.

We currently have about 350 bicycles on the lending scheme and according to our records and estimates, roughly 6000 bicycles have undergone repairs or were built from scratch at our workshop over the years. Quite a feat we believe, especially since we work not only for free but also operate from a small shed that is open twice a week for a few hours only.

The workshop, currently on Don Street in old Aberdeen, is accessible to anyone and should be thought of as an educational space in which knowledge, skills and resources are shared between volunteers and visitors and all other cycling enthusiasts. It is maintained by a lot of hard work and minor grants from the Aberdeen University Student Association, many small private donations and some awards that we manage to win from time to time. The premises are provided by the University of Aberdeen free of charge. Advertisement and promotion of the project, of which there could arguably be more, is done by volunteers, art students and the local media out of their own accord.

At the workshop we teach each other how to build and maintain all sorts of bicycles and assist visitors of all age groups to fix their private bicycles. You will always find a vivid mix of people working there together. Quite often we build new bicycles from scratch ourselves, either for fun or for practice or simply for being creative with the resources we have. And we of course maintain the bicycles from the lending scheme. Apart from providing professional, good quality tools and working-stands that we see as public property, a large part of the workshop functions as storage space for used spare parts that are obtained by donations and swapped among participants and the public.

So instead of major protest or promotion we wanted to act slowly and creatively to get ourselves and others practically involved. We started Becycle as a space for all things bike that allows people to interact and collaborate and bicycles, knowledge, skills and resources to circulate freely.

Our volunteers come from all walks of life: students and staff from both the University of Aberdeen and the Robert Gordon University, youths from around the neighbourhood, people between jobs, pensioners and some that just find some time to spare and support the cause. Some people come regularly, others sporadically.

With the workshop, the Thursday Night Ride, the lending scheme and the recycling of spare parts, tools, nuts and bolts and all bits related, the project’s impact on its surrounding environment and beyond seems significant. It is, in fact, by now well known across Scotland (see our website for ‘Becycle in the Press’) and even worldwide. It maintains an extensive network of relationships with other similar projects, universities, transport research centres, bicycle magazines and all sorts of cycling associations. Every once in a while we have visitors from other parts of Britain who come to have a closer look at our model and we are happy to see projects taking off that were partly inspired by us in such places as Montrose, Dundee, St. Andrews, Glasgow, the Shetlands and even as far as Barcelona.

Over the years a number of collaborations with other organizations from the Aberdeen community took place: various schools (e.g. Cults and Mayfield Academy), pupil-support, the city council, art workshops (White-Space, Peacock, Project Slogan, PELTONIEMI), the skate park Transition Extreme, homeless and social-care centres, festivals, etc. (visit our website for more details). We continually organise cycling related events across the city and always look for new ways to collaborate with other projects.

The bicycle lending scheme provides free bicycles to university students and staff and anyone from the Aberdeen community and beyond (visitors, tourists, back-packers, etc.). Participants can simply borrow a bicycle free of charge in exchange for a fully refundable deposit (mostly £40-60). This is especially popular among international students. Our model however should, in the long run, given enough working and storage capacities, effectively eliminate the waste of unused bicycles on campus and the city as a whole. Old bikes are great!

As you can probably tell from reading about us so far, we are somewhat particular about the way we try to do things. In a nutshell, we have a strong commitment to the public domain and the environment and we feel that our project should not be thought of as a business nor that it should rely on the rule of experts. Like other open-source projects, we believe that our model shows that people can be creative and innovative and that sustainable growth can take place despite a lack of private property, self-interest, economic production, exchange value, competition, profit, etc..

Think about it: we turn bicycles, spare parts and tools into a freely available public resource. Every bit that is given to us, be it money, a bicycle, an airpump, a spanner or a patch goes into the public domain. We renounce our rights of ownership over these items because we think that they can thus circulate more effectively and more creatively. We are trying to provide a space for people to learn from each other and collaborate freely. Even though some of our volunteers are trained mechanics or even become professionals eventually, we would not want to make this a necessary  condition. We think that our project should remain open and that everybody should be able to fix a bicycle and help others by sharing as much or as little knowledge, resources and time they have. We are trying to keep Becycle a civil space that does not rely on fixed top-down relations between qualified experts and lay people. Rather, we try to base our relationships and interactions on shifting degrees of sympathy, involvement, mutual respect and responsibility, experience, trust rather than regulation, and other such romantic ideals. Oddly, this seems to work quite well.

By now, we have simply outgrown our current premises. The sheds we are in are too old and too small – in fact they are falling apart. In order to continue to shape Aberdeen’s cycling community successfully towards a low impact presence and more space for collaboration, knowledge exchange, communality and, of course, more cycling, we are now looking forward to moving into better and bigger facilities that will, hopefully, be provided by the University of Aberdeen in early 2011. Our workshop will remain closed until then. During this transitional period we are trying to adapt our model to a larger space that will hopefully work more effectively. We have a couple of years of experience to draw upon. Surely though, we will need some funding and some support to execute the move, extend our equipment and come up with new ways to put the project to work.

So please, if you like what you’ve read and are interested in bicycles and urban cycling cultures, sustainable development, the public domain, open-source models, civil rights and liberty, do get in touch and become involved. We need your help.

Becyclingly yours,

The Becycle Collective

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