MoBo Bicycle Co-op: Northside bike co-op building bikes, shaping communities

CINCINNATI — MoBo Bicycle Co-op has served as a staple resource for bicyclists in the Cincinnati area since it opened several years ago.

Tucked away in the heart of Northside on Knowlton Street, the volunteer-run operation aims to teach cyclists of all skill levels and ages how to gain independence on and off the road.

The cooperative was formed in 2007 when a group of friends came together and approached the Village Green Foundation , a nonprofit garden co-op, about establishing the city's first bike co-op.

It has since shared a space inside a restored bungalow with the community gardens and Soapbox Books and Zines.

Founders chose the name "MoBo" in honor of a late friend, Justin Morioka, who was a supporter and champion of the Cincinnati cycling community.

While mosts of the original members have moved on over the years, MoBo's mission continues to live through a new generation of volunteers.

"The type of people that tend to come and stay are the type of idealists that give their time to create a corner of their city to create a place they want to be in," said Michael Providenti, a volunteer of nearly four years.

Providenti was introduced to MoBo when he was having difficulty with his bicycle. Instead of dropping it off at a repair show, he knew there was a way to fix it himself.

"I thought I can learn this, so I started hanging out and went to a series of workshops...then before the bike was finished I was a volunteer," he said.

Providenti continued attending workshops at MoBo. Once he reached the point where he could take a bike apart and put it back together again did he had stumbled upon a new passion.

"It's always a learning experience. You don't come in because you know everything," said Providenti.

Northside resident Debbie Reischler had a similar experience.

After hearing about the co-op's efforts in 2011, she decided to shadow weekly open shop classes where members learn to fix their own bikes through the guidance of volunteers and peers.

She began volunteering herself at the front desk while slowly immersing herself in more workshops until she gained more confidence in her bike knowledge.

"I did an eight-week class that was just for women. By the end of it, I felt like I knew the answers," said Reischler.

Practically every part, gear and pedal is an item that has been donated to MoBo over the years.

From people cleaning out their garages or trying to get rid of yard sale leftovers, volunteers find a way to use just about every donated piece that comes their way. In addition to having parts on site, the co-op is also able to sell member's bike parts for cheap.

Accessible and affordable

Accessibility is a major component of MoBo's mission since the day it opened.  The nonprofit strives to maintain affordable prices so all can partake, regardless of income.

Membership dues are $20, which covers access to tools, workshops and expertise of volunteer mechanics.

"Our programs are hands-off, so no one is doing anything for you. It's all interaction, teaching and helping. I think that if people have the mindset where they want to learn, they find that to be very positive," said Providenti.

The cost is cheap, especially compared to other bike co-ops in the country, but it covers just enough to cover the basics; keeping the lights on and heat running in the winter.

Without volunteers, MoBo could not exist. None of the positions are paid and the vast majority of volunteers work full-time jobs during the week.

For volunteers like Providenti and Reischler, working at MoBo is a labor of love.

"The idea is to get people on bikes because it's empowering, and fun...It's about building those relationships and working with people on a one-to-one basis," said Providenti.

Members also have the option to supplement paying the annual fee with volunteer hours.

Nerida Hames, a native of Melbourne, Australia who has spent the past eight months traveling the United States, found this option helpful when she arrived in Cincinnati this April.

She was accepted into the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens' horticulture internship program, but months of traveling left her low on cash.

Now in her eleventh state and just a few months away from moving back home in the fall, buying a car wasn't a viable option. Her co-workers told her about the bike program available at MoBo, so she decided to give it a try.

"The first volunteer session, I really admired how organized they were," said Hames.

Hames was able to earn her membership by volunteering.

"I was a bit daunted with trying to help people with their bikes, but they're supportive of that...You can help out at your skill level and still contribute," she said.

It also helped to to buy a new bike for just $70 — now the Clifton resident's primary means of transportation, outside the bus line.

"You learn something about bikes and the process. You've got to observe and absorb," she said.

For MoBo volunteers and members, the culture is about more than just building bicycles. Being engaged with the community is a driving force

of their efforts.

From group rides and bike safety classes to programs like Open Shop and Kids Nights, it hosts a myriad of events to attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

"I feel like I understand my city better and what other people face. Not everyone is like me, and their responsibilities and troubles they face are a lot different than mine," said Providenti.

That sentiment also helps long-time volunteers to stay encouraged each week.

"We believe in this and want to see this preserved. We want other people to have this opportunity and experience. it always ends up being fun,'' he said.

"This is fun," 

PHOTO ESSAY: Photojournalist Emily Maxwell shadowed the volunteers and members of MoBo Bicycle Co-op over the course of a few weeks. Check out her photo essay below.

MoBo Bicycle Co-op, located on Knowlton Street in Northside, has served a resource for Cincinnati's bicycling community since 2007. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

MoBo Bicycle Co-op holds weekly Open Shop classes where members learn basic mechanics of their bikes. They can enroll in a program where they build their own bike from donated supplies. Emily Maxwell | WCPO.

MoBo volunteer, Debbie Reischler (right) helps a co-op member find the proper parts for her bicycle during a Wednesday Open Shop night in Northside. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

Over the years MoBo has received countless bicycle and parts donations from around the Tri-State. Each item is carefully inspected by a mechanic and then organized in its offsite storage area. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

Every MoBo Bicycle Co-op member receives free access to tools and the option to buty inexpensive parts when needed. The basement of the nonprofit, which it shares with the Village Green Foundation, is used as a storage area for excess items. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

Nerida Hames, who has been a MoBo member since she moved to Cincinnati from Australia in April, joined the nonprofit to help her purchase a bike, which is her primary method of transportation. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

Hames rides the bike she purchased through her membership at MoBo to and from work from her Clifton apartment. She plans to move back to Melbourne in the fall. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

Robert Howley of Norwood and Gregory Wallin of Clifton work together on a bicycle during an Open Shop class at MoBo Bicycle Co-op in Northside. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

Gregory Wallin, a recent member of MoBo Bicycle Co-op, uses provided tools to tune up his bike during an Open Shop class in Northside. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

All supplies and tools used by members at MoBo Bicycle Co-op have been donated over the years. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

MoBo Bicycle Co-op hosts a Kids Night every Monday in June to help engage kids in the community. Emily Maxwell | WCPO.

Over-the-Rhine resident Michael Griffin, a new MoBo member, works on a test bike during his first Open Shop class in Northside. Emily Maxwell | WCPO
 

For more information on MoBo Bicycle Co-op's membership and programs visit http://mobobicyclecoop.org/ .

Follow photojournalist Emily Maxwell on Twitter @EmilyWCPO.

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