It’s four in the afternoon on a cold day in late January, which makes it too early to start drinking and too late to think twice about my deal with The Judge. So I haul my vintage cerulean-blue, heavy-as-fuck Schwinn World Sport down the stairs of my apartment building and hop on, peddling out toward Guadalupe and Down S 1st to 411 Monroe with the cold wind slapping me in the face, serving as a reminder of how serious of a lifestyle choice Cyclists make.

I hop off and walk my bike through an opening in a fence with a yellow bike strapped onto the chain links and figure I’ve come to the right place, so I find a rail and slap a U-lock on my bike outside. I walk up the ramp and into the building, a two-story metal warehouse with various pieces of art and bicycles scattered about the abode, a temporary shop being generously lent to AYB by Austin Arts + Music Partnership until the new headquarters is ready for open in May.

Twenty or more people are busy at work inside, and they are a variety of quirky characters—some serious cyclists, who need just the right tool for a fix; vagabonds with jaded eyes that had already seen all corners of the country; criminals serving time to the community—all housed under the same roof for the same purpose: to take part in the free exchange of do-it-yourself bicycle fixation information that the staff of AYB lives to give to the community for about six hours a week.

Standing in the middle of the shop, I see a man donned in a brown fedora, with a black long-sleeve shirt and one rolled-up pant leg running across the warehouse. I’m told that his name is Mateo, and I walk over to where he’s instructing shop patrons on how to put inner tubes in their tires and after a brief introduction, Mateo starts talking in cyclist terms that may or may not be a language in its own. Mechanically inclined I am not, and after realizing this Mateo sends me away from the tools and off with a couple of helpers to a corner where we sort out & organize various donated parts into plastic bins. Easy enough of a task unless one doesn’t know the difference between mountain bike & road bike levers, and it doesn’t take long to see that my helpers do not.

A man must have a certain amount of patience to deal with idiots for hours on end, and I admire Mateo & his team for having it, and of the integrity they present while running shop. By 6:30 my hands are greasy enough and a call is made to clean up the shop, and people are filing out within a half-hour. Some with new bikes, some with new parts, and some with just a little bit of knowledge they didn’t have before the evening’s class. As I step outside I’m greeted by a group of serious cyclists, those of the urban warrior breed, and one of them informs me of a work party happening at the new headquarters the following day. I wave him off, and tell him I’ll be there.

* * *

I arrive at the Webberville shop at around noon, and soon the organization’s Treasurer, Jennifer Schaffer along with volunteers & other members of the AYB staff trickle in until we have twenty or so people ready to party, and by party I mean work in the field.
So to the field I go, past the sounds of hammers & hacksaws to the edge of the land at the fence, along which I help plant Agave to create probably the greenest “No Trespassing” sign there is in East Austin.  You’ll be workin’ in the field, till you get your back burned; workin’  ‘neath the wheels, till you get your facts learned—and the gratification that comes from such a day’s work is unmatched, except of course by the cold beer that waits for one by nightfall. Calloused hands. Dirty pants. Sore feet, etc…

Thom Fain: What is Austin Yellow Bike Project’s mission?
Jennifer Schaffer: To get people riding bicycles, and make them available to people cheap; to help them maintain bicycles on their own.
TF: How does AYB best benefit the community?
JS: We provide a place where anybody can come and become part of a community of cyclists to support one another to ride bikes around more, and that of course improves a number of things; traffic congestion pollution, physical fitness, mental well-being.
TF: I keep hearing about benefits in the Red River District. Is this how the project is primarily financed?
JS: We hold benefits probably five or six times a year, but of course while we’ve been under construction and it’s been more frequent. Typically it’s only once a year, for our birthday party. Our main financing has been from donations people give us for using the shop, and also the bikes that we have available for sale are used bikes that are sold on kind of a sliding scale.
TF: What is AYB’s goal for 2010?
JS:  To be open a lot, have the shop running well, to get our education and earn-a-bike programs back in gear, and get our community garden working—just to really do all the things we’ve been waiting to for years, you know, with our new shop.
TF: I see the rainwater collection system behind us, and you mentioned a community garden. What made you decide to incorporate these ideas into the organization’s plans?
JS: The rainwater is something we wanted to do, because it’s just a thing that makes sense to do. But it also helps us with storm water remediation. The use of the tanks will be for the community garden, and there’ll be about a thousand square feet in garden space. We’re going to have to really figure out the demand for the community garden, which will help us determine how much space we have and who gets to use it. We’d like it to be open to anyone, but you may have to be a collective member to use it.
TF: How can members of the community become part of the collective?
JS: Our website, www.austinyellowbike.org. There’s a “get involved” section, and it tells you all about becoming a collective member, how to be a coordinator, and how to volunteer.

Laborious work for community-driven, not for profit groups is nothing new to me, and it has been a pleasure to do it with Austin Yellow Bike. I became fed up with The Machine long ago and it’s filthy efforts of globalization. As such, I would encourage cyclists to look into lending a hand or becoming a part of the collective because that would be the weird thing to do.