Order Rev Nat's Cider Today

Fixing bikes for those in need: Hanging out with the Wrench Raiders

Posted by on January 24th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

From L to R: Wrench Raiders volunteer Jacob Martinez, Larry Carver, Wrench Raiders founder C.J. Speelman.
(Photos © J. Maus)


Yesterday I got a chance to hang out with Wrench Raiders, an up-and-coming non-profit that provides free bike repair for Portland’s homeless population.

Hanging out with the Wrench Raiders-11

C.J. Speelman.

I met up with C.J. Speelman at his outdoor bike repair station situated between Grace Bible Church and St. Stephen’s Episcopal on SW Clay in downtown Portland. Speelman, 28, has only been in Portland for two years, but he’s already well-known among our city’s homeless population.

“The whole reason for this is to build community. That’s what bikes do.”
— C.J. Speelman, Wrench Raiders founder

Originally from Victorville, California, Speelman has been working with the homeless for about six years. For him, bikes are merely a way to build community and relationships. “I was looking for what I could give folks besides food and then I started to notice how many of them had bikes, and it hit me, transportation!” So Speelman taught himself how to fix bikes and started doing it for free. But in Victorville, bicycling isn’t exactly flourishing, so his repair stand didn’t get a lot of business.

Hanging out with the Wrench Raiders-1

Speelman moved to Portland with his wife two years ago. When he set up his repair stand under Portland’s Hawthorne Bridge for the first time back in April, it didn’t take long for word to spread. “That first summer started slow, but as word got out, we’d do as many as 12 bikes in about three hours. It was crazy.”

As I chatted with Speelman I noticed a man beaming with a smile as he came back from a test ride. “It’s amazing! It’s like a new bike! Thank you!” Wrench Raider volunteer mechanic Jacob Martinez had just installed a new set of brake pads on Larry Carver’s blue Trek mountain bike. A few minutes before that I met a woman named Candy who was equally grateful after getting a derailleur adjustment.

Hanging out with the Wrench Raiders-4

“It’s amazing! Like a new bike!”

Everyone likes a well-maintained bike, but for Wrench Raider customers — who can’t afford bus passes and have no other way to get around — reliability takes on a whole new meaning. “A lot of these people have extreme barriers to transportation,” said Speelman, “and for some of them, it’s their only way to get to the hospital. It’s life and death. It’s really important.”

Beyond keeping everyone rolling, Speelman knows that the true value of his work is just being there. “The whole reason for this is to build community. That’s what bikes do.”

Hanging out with the Wrench Raiders-9

With nearly a full year under his belt, Speelman is now looking to expand and build his organization. He needs donations to purchase more brake pads, cables, and other replacements parts. He also hopes to purchase a cargo bike that’s capable of hauling all his tools. The idea, he says, is to have a mobile bike shop so he can take his help directly into Portland’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Another thing on Speelman’s 2011 agenda is to build a bridge to the homeless community. “A lot of us dehumanize homeless people,” says Speelman, “This is a way to demystify all that… I’d like us to be able to build a bridge to the at-large community and bring everyone together.” We swapped a few ideas on how that might happen. A group ride perhaps; maybe one where instead of cans of food, everyone brings a spare bike part they’re willing to donate.

With the amount of Portland’s homeless population that gets around by bike, Wrench Raiders seems like a much-needed addition to our city.

Learn more about Wrench Raiders on their website.

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

13
Leave a Reply

avatar
13 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
13 Comment authors
ambrownrevTed DiamondSteve Hoyt-McBethJohn Lascurettes Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
cold worker
Guest
cold worker

this is awesome.

borgbike
Guest

Dang. This is right near my work. St Stephans and Grace Bible seem like a good fit for this sort of work. The neighborhood needs it and both churches do a huge amounts of homeless outreach. (Plus St. Stephans has their bike shrine.)

There are a lot of low income folks in the buildings in this neighborhood who could use help with their bikes. I’ll try to stay up-to-date with Wrench Raiders so I can do my part to facilitate the connections. Wish I had heard about this earlier!

Steve B
Guest

The Wrench Raiders rock! Thanks for showing great leadership in making cycling accessible and reliable for folks who are often ignored in the mainstream bike repair world. This work is important on so many levels, well done!

tim
Guest
tim

“The whole reason for this is to build community. That’s what bikes do.”

The truth was spoken.

joe
Guest
joe

hell yes

Greg
Guest

I’ve seen the work being done, and it’s solid. Helping people have transportation helps people get and keep jobs, and feeds families. This is much more than spokes and tires.

DK
Guest
DK

Good man. Keep up the great work!

deborah
Guest
deborah

Incredible work.

John Lascurettes
Guest

These guys have a nice big Karma bank. Well done.

Steve Hoyt-McBeth
Guest

Wrench Raiders! Bravo.

Ted Diamond
Guest

This could be a life-changer. Well done.

rev
Guest

I dig it! Wondering if a partnership with a larger bike shop would be in order.

ambrown
Guest

Kudos to the Wrench Rangers for their important work. And Kudos to Jonathan for covering all the stories about Portlanders and their bicycles, even those who won’t be spoofed in the Portlandia series. It’s really important that we, as activists, recognize stories like this and find ways to advance the roll active transportation can play in a litany of varying social movements, from the equitable to the environmental.