It is officially summer in the Old Pueblo, and volunteers with BICAS (Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage) want to kick off the season with a sizzling fundraiser: the Hottest Day of the Year Bike Ride.
“We thought this was a great way to celebrate the fact that people still ride their bikes around and still commute and enjoy themselves even though it is so hot in the summer in Tucson,” said Kristin McRay, an organizer of the benefit.
The event, which starts at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, seeks to bring the local bike community together while raising funds toward a permanent home for BICAS as it celebrates its 25th anniversary.
BICAS was founded in 1989 as Bootstraps to Share of Tucson to assist and empower the homeless through providing work, shelter and transportation.
The nonprofit has expanded its services to train thousands of adults and youths in bicycle repair, safety and maintenance while restoring thousands of bicycles.
It provides a variety of programs, including Community Tools, which offers shop time and tools for bicycle maintenance for a sliding-scale fee of $6 to $12 per hour, along with “community mechanics” and BICAS staff to answer questions and help as needed.
The Earn-a-Bike Program is a work-trade program that allows participants to earn credit toward a bicycle that needs to be refurbished — participants in the Build-a-Bike class learn to build a bike from scratch and build one for BICAS to sell.
BICAS also offers sales and rentals of refurbished bikes.
More than 300 young people use the work-trade and community service programs each year and more than 2,200 hours of community service are completed annually at BICAS. The nonprofit has collaborated with neighborhood associations, schools and community organizations.
McRay, who discovered BICAS nine years ago when she moved to Tucson and is now a member of the staff, said the organization is one of the largest and oldest bike co-ops in the nation.
“I might be biased, but it is a very cool nonprofit. We have been around consistently for 25 years and have continued to grow slowly and now have 15 part-time staff members,” McRay said.
“BICAS has become a staple in the downtown community and is kind of a community center,” she continued. “It is a place for art and creativity and is on the daily route for people who need to maintain their transportation.”
Empowering people to take on their own repairs and promoting the bicycle as a form of transportation are central to BICAS’ mission, McRay said.
“The bicycle is one of the most affordable forms of transportation and recreation, and we are trying to make it accessible to everyone, including homeless people, students and youth who may not have other options for transportation,” she said.
Lessons about bikes and bike mechanics at BICAS are a wonderful resource for the entire community and can translate into business and life, according to Art Evans, 74.
Evans, who rides his bike every day, and his son Ross have been involved with BICAS since its inception.
Evans said BICAS provided encouragement when Ross was inspired to design and build a cargo bicycle that can carry groceries, children and other items.
Ross is now the chief executive officer of Xtracycle (www.xtracycle.com), which sells a line of cargo bikes and accessories through dealers nationally and internationally.
“BICAS holds a special place in my heart for how they worked with Ross when he was starting his bicycle business. They have been so helpful to him and have been a longtime resource and built a real connection over the years,” Evans said.
Overall, Evans said BICAS is all about building connections, teaching mechanical skills and putting bikes into the hands of those who need them.
He hopes the community will support BICAS as it seeks to find a permanent downtown property that offers more space than its current location at 44 W. Sixth St.
“Bicycles are a way of life, and I can’t say enough about them in terms of lifestyle. Some people think they are only for racing, but everyday usage is so obvious in Tucson,” Evans said. “It is a real bicycle town, and BICAS makes bikes accessible to a whole subset of the community who can’t afford a bike and can work to earn one.”