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Bikes for the people

  • Volunteer Mark Swint, right, shows Robert Ramos and his grandson Adrian Murillo how to fix a bicycle wheel at Santa Rosa's Community Bikes, one of several community-based programs in Sonoma County that can provide bikes at low cost, or no cost at all. (CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat)

How much does a bicycle cost?

If you order a Damien Hirst “Butterfly” Trek Madrone titanium road bike, designed in Canada and made in the United States, it'll set you back $500,000.

For most people, that's not a very practical option. For them, and those who are too young to get a driver's license, there are several community-based programs throughout Sonoma County that can provide bikes at low cost — or no cost at all.

“We've given away 300 free bicycles in the past year, and thousands over the past eight years,” said Michael Teller, co-founder of Community Bikes Santa Rosa, a nonprofit organization that recycles old donated bikes.

Community Bikes also sells rebuilt, lower-priced bicycles, and lets bike owners use its repair shop for $10 an hour, with used parts for sale and volunteer bike mechanics available to mentor riders on how to fix their rides.

“We get a lot of support from local bike shops, because we can offer something they don't,” Teller said.

The program has more than economy in mind. Established by LITE Initiatives, a local environmental organization, Community Bikes is also ecology-minded.

“We encourage people to ride bicycles, and we try to make it easy,” Teller said.

Cycling not only spares the air and reduces use of fossil fuel, it also helps people stay in shape and offers inexpensive transportation to those with few other options, he explained.

The core staff of some 20 volunteers at Community Bikes Santa Rosa practices what it believes.

“Everyone here rides a bicycle by choice,” Teller said. “It's a way of life.”

A completely separate program with a similar name — Community Bikes Petaluma — operates on a smaller scale.

“It's basically me, my friends and family. I did it out of my backyard at first,” said founder Alan Allen, who started collecting, repairing and redistributing donated bicycles in early 2012.

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