Support BikePortland

Checking in with the Community Cycling Center

Posted by on February 7th, 2006 at 9:16 am

A trip to the Community Cycling Center

[Tom Knipe]

Last week I sat down with Tom Knipe, interim director of the Community Cycling Center (CCC). For the uninitiated, the CCC is known for their great programs, parts recycling, used bike shop, and their Holiday Bike Drive which donates bikes to kids.

When I got there, programs manager Gabe Graff gave me the full tour. I’d never seen the CCC’s basement and it was quite a sight to behold. Bikes and parts were stacked everywhere…and impressively clean and orderly too. They really need more storage space so get in touch with them if you’ve got some laying around.

A trip to the Community Cycling Center

[The Basement]

A trip to the Community Cycling Center

[Bike fork sculpture]

After the basement tour, Tom and I went for coffee and talked about all sorts of stuff. I asked Tom what makes the CCC different from other bike groups in town and he really drove home the fact that the CCC isn’t just about bikes but that they’re “first and foremost a social services agency”. They believe bikes are a perfect tool to reach out to low-income families and kids (Tom is especially excited about their Bike Safety Clubs and Get Linked program).

I’ve long been confused about how the CCC’s approach is different from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA). They both do kids bike safety programs and it seemed to make more sense to just partner up and avoid going after the same grant money. But Tom explained that the differences are important. First, the CCC is focused on their immediate neighborhoods (the BTA is statewide) and CCC programs tend to me more comprehensive, engaging each participant on a deeper level and trying to change their life (as opposed to just teaching them the curriculum).

In addition to running programs, the CCC also has a fully staffed retail bike shop. I’ve heard many grumblings on the street about a high turnover rate with mechanics. I asked Tom about this and he said it’s tough to keep non-profit wages competitive and admitted he’d like to offer higher pay. He also explained that most of the CCC’s money comes from grants which are earmarked for specific programs so mechanic’s wages would have to come from individual donations, which is an area Tom is hoping to improve on in the coming year. That is, if he is chosen as their next Executive Director.

Yes, the CCC is on the lookout for a new leader. Tom is definitely hoping for the job and with his 3 years of experience at the CCC he’s a front runner for sure.

Their previous leader, Daniel Bohn did some great work but he was also somewhat controversial with a dubious background that was highlighted in this Oregonian article last year. Tom is aware that leadership personality issues were hurting the organization and he’s eager to move beyond them and make the CCC a great place to work and visit.

With an expanding operation in Vancouver, a growing Bike Safety Club program and some big grants coming down the pipeline, I hope Tom (or whoever the Board hires) can continue the CCC’s great work and put the “community” back in Community Cycling Center.

Check out the photo gallery from my CCC visit.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

14 Comments
  • Avatar
    Josh m February 7, 2006 at 9:55 am

    I used to go to the CCC all the time. It was alright. Though, they charged for everything. THere are little things I can go to other shops for and they don’t charge me.
    Also, they charge more than most other shops.
    They annoyed me w/ the whole minority/low income deal.
    Any program I was interested in, i was turned away because I’m white and a male. oh well.
    I started making the trek to North portland bike works instead, even though i lived 2 blocks from the CCC

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Jonathan Maus February 7, 2006 at 10:12 am

    I asked Tom about the high bike prices thing. He knows this is a criticism they’ve been getting, but he said they’re not in business to sell cheap bikes. Remember, they’re a non-profit whose mission is to do programs. All money raised in their shop goes to support this.

    I suggested to Tom that they make this fact more obvious by hanging tags on the bikes that say, “You’re helping support our programs with this purchase.”

    Running a retail bike shop and being a program-based non-profit with 33 full-time employees, 2 locations and tons of big programs is probably a tough thing to pull off.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    josh m February 7, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    Oh, I understand that. But my ass is just as poor as those programs they have, but the simple fact was I wasn’t eligible for those programs, so it was annoying to me.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Paul C February 7, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    I worked as a school liaison for the CCC’s Bike Safety program this fall. They were extremely professional from the first session to the last. A well-organized curriculum, energetic instructors, and free bikes and helmets for the 12 lucky kids in our class made it an enjoyable time for all.

    Paying a few extra bucks for a bike at their shop is worth it to me because I’ve seen the light shine in 4th and 5th-grade kids’ eyes who “earned” a bike by learning how to safely use a bike, not to mention how to change a flat on a rear tire that has a derailer and no quick-release lever.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Aaron February 7, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    I worked on CCCs Create a Commuter program and volunteered for a year. One of the folks there helped me get settled when I moved from New York which was a life saver. I’m deeply impressed that the CCC helps low income children and adults get a bicycle. It truly follows the saying that you can give a (wo)man a fish and (s)he’ll eat for a day, or you can teach (her)him to fish and (s)he’ll eat for a lifetime.
    They address an issue that most service programs don’t. That our current transportation system is only for those with a steady income. If you don’t have one, than you can’t get a job, thus you never escape poverty. When I want to contribute to help the poor, I don’t give it to soup kitchens, I give to CCC.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Robert Ping February 7, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    As a former director of youth bicycle programs very similar to the CCC (in the SF Bay Area), and now as the BTA’s Safe Routes to School Program Director, I agree with Tom’s assertion that the two organizations are indeed quite different. Even though both deal primarily with bicycles, their non-profit missions are different. Whereas the BTA is focused on making bicycling accessible for everyone in Oregon, the CCC’s mission is to help those in need in Portland and Vancouver, WA.

    CCC programs are geared to help local disadvantaged adults and kids by using the bicycle as a tool to improve their lives, while recycling donated bikes at the same time.

    BTA programs are geared to help everyone in Oregon by increasing the number of cyclists, and their rights, knowledge, and access to the roads, to improve everyone’s lives.

    For instance, the CCC youth programs provide great opportunities for local kids to learn teamwork, build self-esteem, develop motor skills, accomplish tasks and receive rewards for learning, and a recycled bike to use for exploration, transportation and fun.

    BTA youth programs are geared to improve access to safe biking facilities, to increase the safety and numbers of kids biking, and to increase the opportunities for all kids in Oregon to be physically active.

    We overlap in a few ways: we both improve kids lives and provide bicycle education and programs. We just reach mostly different kids in different ways in different places.

    Apples and Oranges…but its all good!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Ayleen February 7, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    Hey Josh m, Not sure what you could mean about not getting the deals because you’re a white male. Any discounts or programs for bikes have been on a low-income basis. If you’re not low-income, you’re not going to get a deal from there, it’s a non-profit, no profit no extra money to help people who don’t need it. No matter you skin color, you’ll get a fair price. You say “any program” but that’s pretty ridiculous. There have been three adult programs over the years: Create a Commuter for anyone over 18 of any skin color, any gender, who is low-income, Low-Income Commuter Discount for exactly the same population, and the training program.

    There was specific funding for a training program that came from a funding source that was intended for women and people of color who are generally under-represented in the bike mechanic industry. That was training, had nothing to do with sales and service.

    I know, probably more than anyone on earth, all the gripes about CCC that have come over the years, but I’m really sick of people wanting something for nothing and not realizing that CCC has programs in place to make that happen. Just because you love bikes and have good intentions doesn’t mean you deserve the best deal in town from an organization that’s struggling to pay the bills and, more importantly, pay their employees a fair wage so they can continue to help children and families who are struggling in life.

    It’s really hard to make a non-profit financially secure. If they give away all their services, what’s left? Grants don’t cover giving you a cheap part or not charging you for that bolt (not to mention the time it took for that staff person to find it for you). Grants cover the programs. You want a deal, look toward someone who has extra cash to make deals. CCC isn’t that place. You want excellent work done, want to feel good knowing you’re helping little kids just by making a purchase, then CCC is your place.

    I’ve heard it all, and I am definitely confident that 80% of what I’ve heard about CCC over the 5 years I worked there is utter crap from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    revphil February 7, 2006 at 11:22 pm

    The CCC has an impressive mission statement and goal, but I think many of the concerns are still reasonable. In the past year I have been informed that, or bear witness to:

    * Having mechanics jump on rear triangles to bend bike frames so that they become useless in the event of dumpster divers.

    * Illogical and/or sexist decision making

    * chopping wheels with a saws-all to separate the rubber from the metal rather than use levers.

    * Promising health care benefits to employees that, months later, never materialize.

    I don’t mean to pick a fight, but a lot of my friends are still very upset. A little clearing of the air might help. Otherwise how are are folks supposed to move on?

    When an organization is doing a lot of good folks kinda dont want to look like jerks for speaking their mind. So lots of people go away silently, although they may have a legitimate complaint. I would like the CCC to recognize their employees as part of their community.

    It is a tremendous undertaking to provide cheap efficient transportation to those in need. I have great hope for the CCC with their new management.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Geoff Greene February 8, 2006 at 9:51 am

    I worked at the CCC for over three years before being asked to leave. It was a great place to work, and I feel it also did good things for the community at large. But the CCC also suffered from a leadership that seemed at times to be working against the own best interests of the organization. I could go on and list all the BS that went down, but what would be the point? Most of this stuff is in the past. I think the place is under better leadership now, Tom is a good person to head it up. Tom will be the one to move the Center beyond those last funky months of Daniel.
    As far as (over) pricing at the CCC, I know of one person who quit because of the unreasonable autocratic pricing of used parts. I think that particular pricing policy has softened since then, go see what kind of deal they can make you now.
    And as far as pricing on the used bikes, when I was there we tried to have a two-tier system of pricing. The fancy or high quality bikes we would try to get top dollar for, and the basic bikes that people could use for transportation would be priced modestly. >>It was a very fair system, and I hope it’s still being used. (yes management, I’m talking to you)

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Geoff Greene February 8, 2006 at 10:06 am

    –continued—

    As far as wages go, it’s a non-profit bike shop. Non-profits don’t pay well. Bike shops don’t pay well. Combine the two, and, surprise, it still doesn’t pay well.
    Despite the BS that’s happened in the past, the CCC is still a great place. It’s staffed by great people who are there because they love bikes. If you’ve been bummed out in the past by the Center, give them another try, it’s a mellower place now.
    And bring some old Schwinns to donate, they love that.
    Cheers, Geoff

    RevPhil: yeah, it does suck when the wheels get cut on, especially when you get it home and it’s perfect except for the cut

    Ayleen: you said that 80% of trash talk about the Center is hot air, but that still leaves a pretty solid 20%, hopefully in the past

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Ayleen February 9, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    Hey Geoff,

    Yes, you are correct, if 80% is hot air there is still that 20%. I’m not going to say everything that happened at CCC while I worked at there was perfect. Like most under-funded, quickly growing grassroots organizations, CCC has struggled to do what’s right for program participants, customers, funders and staff. Lots of struggle, tons of hard decisions and some leadership-forced decisions. However, not all of that 20% was malicious. A lot of the struggles resulted from just being SO busy and overloking things or telling people the wrong thing, or making quick decisions. CCC’s definitely not perfect, but I see a lot of great changes happening.

    I totally agree with you that things are mellower and people should give it another shot, and that a lot of the crud is in the past. Time to let it go and move one. Thanks.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Tom Knipe February 9, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks everyone for the comments and thanks Jonathan for coming over to visit the CCC last week.

    A couple of quick replies:

    Jonathan:
    About Daniel, our former ED, you said: “Tom is aware that leadership and personality issues were hurting the organization”. That’s not quite what I think. Let me state what I think. Daniel was a leader with a very strong vision for the organization – a vision and a passion that were the single most important factor in us growing into the nation’s largest and most successful hands-on bike non-profit, from rather humble beginnings just 6 years ago. Daniel also has a strong personality, and like many leaders with a singular, uncompromising vision and commitment, he made some decisions that upset some people. And his personal style did not mesh well with some people. With this change in leadership at the CCC, I think that we have an mportant opportunity to reach out to members of the community who may have been estranged from the CCC for reasons related to Daniel, however I am at the same time proud of the legacy that Daniel left in a strong, vibrant, and growing CCC.

    Robert:
    Thanks for your expanded discussion of the difference and similarities between BTA and CCC programs. All your points are right on!

    Geoff:
    We still have moderately priced bikes for basic commuting. Three and a half years ago when I first started at the CCC and you had been working there, we promoted our retail shop as a place to purchase low-cost bikes. While we still have moderately priced bikes, the quality of what we put out for sale has gone up, and at the same time we have changed how we view the retail shop. While we still provide programs directly through the retail shop like We Cycle and the free commuter workstation, our main programmatic emphasis is now clearly on our earn a bike youth programs, Create a Commuter, the Holiday Bike Drive, the Bicycle Mechanic Apprenticeship Program, etc and the shop provides income which directly support the programs. We’re also still a great place to buy a bike.

    RevPhil:
    Re: stomping on frames. The reason was to fit more metal volume into our small old scrap trailer. We currently have a partnership with Metro Metals to recycle our scrap and they provide us with a much larger bin so we don’t have to economize on space quite as much now (so frame stomping doesn’t happen anymore unless we have a huge pile of bikes to recycle at once). And while we do discourage theft, we offer the public an opportunity to access the scrap metal bin (and often whole bikes earmarked for recycling) once a week through our Scrap Bike Program. Contact Susha, our Americorps Recycling Coordinator for more info. Recycling@CommunityCyclingCenter.org

    RE: Chopping rims earmarked for recycling to remove rubber: We always look for sensible ways to streamline processes to make the recycling program sustainable.

    RE: Promising benefits and not following through. Our hiring process is much clearer since last spring when two or three new employees were indeed given the indication by the hiring manager that they may be eligible for benefits down the road, when in fact we did not have a clear policy in place either way. There was NEVER any intent to misleed anyone on the part of CCC management. There WERE these two things: a lack of clarity about the policy that led the hiring manager to overstate the possibility of benefits and a miscontruance on the part of the employees being hired about a “promise” vs a hope. Not great, but certainly not malicious and definitely a problem of the past.

    Thanks all for the lively discussion.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Jonathan Maus February 9, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    Tom:
    You definitely get my vote for ED based on the way you’ve responded in such a real and direct way. Thanks for your candor and willingness to be open and honest with the community about these important issues.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • […] I’m a bit disappointed that Interim Director Tom Knipe didn’t get the job (here’s a recent interview I did with him). Tom is a a five-year CCC veteran who I’m sure would have been a great leader. He hasn’t decided if he’ll stay with the CCC or pursue other opportunities. […]

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar