The placid clouds stretched to the horizons to meet up with the concrete sprawl. It was 9:00 a.m. on a grey, autumn morning, and there I stood on top of Lot 8. Below, women and men of a continuum of ages waited patiently on walls and in stairwells. Some hid behind their phones, others kicked at the asphalt, awaiting the call of their number.
Having missed the event the previous year, my friend and I, now sophomores, were committed to getting a free bike. We agreed to wake up by 6:00 am to maximize our value. However, not knowing what to expect, we casually woke up and slowly found our way over to the parking lot two hours later than we had planned. We received tickets that numbered well over a hundred. My friend, being easily discouraged, was despondent. I reassured him of our prospects, and we hung around. Errant drops informed us of the eminent threat of rain.
We watched for what seemed like eternity as the lot slowly emptied, people strolling out with their brand new, second-hand bikes. Some were in great shape, others only needed small repairs. Savvy bike recycle veterans made off with valuable frames, as the pen where the bicycles were held steadily depleted. By the time our number came up, just moments after a purple road bike I had been watching rolled off, there were at most ten bikes remaining. We walked around the picked-over and unappetizing menagerie of misfit and disowned cycles.
The raindrops became more frequent, and I realized that I needed to settle. I grabbed a blue and white suspension frame bicycle, which was impossible to ride or even push but at least had all the necessary parts. The tires were flat, the wheel was coming off, the chain was stuck and rust poured out of the handle bars. The sky cried softly at my misfortune.
Opportunities can come about in many ways. Sometimes disappointments, once overcome, open up new possibilities. I had seen the UCLA Bike Shop several times walking by, and I figured I should take the bike there. I initially just wanted an explanation of what was wrong and possibly a quote. The folks at the bike shop told me the the fixes were straightforward, and that as long as I signed a waiver, I would be allowed to do the repairs on my own in the shop. The only thing I would need to pay for was parts; tools, rags, and oil were free to use.
I spent some time in the bike shop over the next several months. I overhauled half of the drivetrain, trued the wheels, replaced the cables and handlebar covers and more—all with the advice and guidance of the bike shop staff. The knowledge and experience was invaluable. As an engineering student, the lack of hands-on experience in the curriculum can be frustrating. Working on my bike was a good escape from my theoretical classes without taking up too much time. Out of convenience, and to hang out with people there, I still go in to the shop to do my tune-ups and minor repairs.
A bicycle on the brink of death, designated for scrap metal, was given new life, and it gave back in equal parts. Running late for class is a lot less stressful when you can hasten your commute. The city, or at least the Westside, opens up for you when you have a bike. Rides to Farmers Markets, up and down the beach, and up into the mountains near Malibu all became weekend adventures. LA's bicycle community is relatively small and sparse but nonetheless vibrant. As a student with no funds or time for car ownership, a bike is a necessity. In a city plagued by traffic and pollution, it is also a civic duty, a convenience that doesn't harm others.
These experiences and lessons were enabled by waiting my turn at Bike (Re)cycling Day. I still have the bike, and I ride it as much as possible, proud that I fixed it myself. Bike (Re)cycling Day is more than just a way to get a free bike, it is an opportunity to be creative, be sustainable and make friends. I don't recommend getting there late, but even if you do, there is plenty of value to be found. Whether you need a new transportation companion or parts to sustain your current ride, it is a chance to spend a few hours that can enrich your life for several years. I found that out, just by not being discouraged by a big number and a little rain.