A couple of Bicycologists recently took a trip to visit to Birmingham to visit the Bike Foundry (http://www.birminghambikefoundry.org) to add to our general knowledge of DIY & co-op bike projects & to keep in use the mechanic skills we developed on the City and Guilds course we participated in a few years ago.
The Bike Foundry is based in the slightly bizarre setting of a music studio building (they needed a “quiet” tenant in the rooms above the recording studio) in an industrial part of Birmingham called Digbeth, close to the town centre. It’s a workers co-op, part of Radical Routes and run by a small group of people, including one full-time paid employee.
They offer maintenance skills training, cycle training, repairs and fix donated bikes to sell on at a reasonable price – although they are currently looking for more donated bikes to fix up. It is sad to think that the city of Birmingham, once the centre of the Bicycle Manufacturing boom in the UK, is now struggling to yield enough second-hand bikes for the mechanics at the Bike Foundry to work on and provide to the good folks of Birmingham who are in need of decent second-hand bicycles. They usually sell each bike almost as soon as it is fixed up. If you’re reading this in Brum and you have an unwanted bicycle get in touch with the Bike Foundry. They have also started to sell a range of handmade cycling caps and felted ‘lobster’ gloves made from charity shop jumpers.
Most of our time at the Bike Foundry was spent fixing-up a couple of bikes that were to be sold on. The Foundry repair the second-hand bikes to a really high standard, every part is checked and serviced if needed, and they have a good range of spares and replacement parts for bits that can’t be salvaged. We fixed a pink ladies racer, and long neglected child’s bike – which needed almost every part of it servicing. It was well worth all the work we put into it, as it was to be used in a project by the Bike Foundry at a local Special Needs School where they have decided to put Bike Polo on the curriculum as a physical co-ordination and self-esteem building activity.
Bike polo seems to be one the Bike Foundry’s big passions and on Wednesday evening we went to a wickedly icy pitch to play polo. Birmingham is not lacking in good bike polo players and we shyly took part in one game, but weren’t quite up the their precise ball thwacking skills. The pitch got more slippery as the freezing night wore on, and despite the amount of falls, skids and tumbles, everyone was playing on regardless.
Thursday evening is the Bike Foundry regular ‘tool-club’, where anyone who signs up for a modest yearly fee can come along and use their well-equipped workshop & tools. Tool-club was busy and buzzing with people and their bikes. The bands in the music studios had just started up for the evening, so it had it’s own mingling of soundtracks drifting in from the surrounding rooms as people turned up with their bikes to repair. We could see how appreciative the people who brought their bikes along were to be able to use proper tools and bike stands – making bike repair so much more of a pleasurable, easy and sociable experience. It’s a great idea, and something every town & city could benefit from.
A posting here would not be complete without some talk of food, and we must mention the fantastic friendly Lebanese bakery & cafe we frequented. When we were not fixing bikes in Birmingham we were mostly munching our way through falafel, pittas, pickles, lebanese flatbreads, houmous and baba ghanoush….mmmmm.
Thanks to all in Birmingham for having us to visit – We were impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of the Bike Foundry folks and the genuine interest and love they have for all things cycling. It seems like they are a real asset to the cycling community of Birmingham, and they have lots of exciting plans to improve and grow in the future.