Welcoming Wheels

Friday night bikes: helping immigrants get rolling in their new city

It’s an unexpected sight to say the least. On most Friday evenings, if you walk past reception at the Citadel Community Centre and climb a flight of stairs, you’ll find eight or so people repairing bicycles — on the landing.

Wheel web-ready

If you squeeze past the commotion, you’ll find a large storage room dominated by countless old bicycles. They’re awaiting repair and then assignment to new owners from the city’s fast-growing immigrant population.

“We’re one of the few organizations like this that does not need more volunteers right now, but I expect that to change as we grow, so we’re always glad to hear from skilled mechanics,” says Adam Berry, who manages the Welcoming Wheels project for the Ecology Action Centre and its partners.

And it turns out that sharing a passion for biking is a great way to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers. Adam estimates 80 per cent of the volunteers at Welcoming Wheels are themselves recent immigrants.

On the face of it, the project is simple: repair donated bicycles and give them to newcomers. But there’s more to it. Some volunteers are regulars on Friday nights, others take on tasks such as collecting the bikes, managing inventory, raising money, training people to ride safely on Halifax streets, translating, and organizing the distribution of street-ready bikes.

Very narrow
Ephraim Mapendo walked in with his bike while Adam and I were talking about all this. Adam eyed the tires and suggested Ephraim add some air. That segued into a discussion about whether narrow or wide tires are better for riding in the snow.


“Yep. Ephraim lives in Spryfield and needs his bike to get to work at the Walmart in Bedford.”

Adam, an enthusiastic BMX biker who recommends narrow tires for snow, said Ephraim is an example of one of his earliest insights at Welcoming Wheels: “Like most of the world, immigrants want bikes for economic reasons, not recreation. North Americans see it is as hobby, which is probably why we have the lowest bike ridership anywhere.”

Well, hobby or not, volunteers are drawn to the landing on Friday nights to fix bikes and, at break-time, enjoy traditional Canadian cuisine — pizza.

More photos below.

Bikes awaiting owners
Stored bikes at the Citadel Community Centre, waiting for owners or repair. The Immigrant Settlement of Nova Scotia, Bike Again and the Halifax Cycling Coalition also support Welcoming Wheels.
More bikes. In just over a year, Welcoming Wheels has refurbished roughly 100 bikes and trained their new owners.
Adam even brightness
Welcoming Wheels manager Adam Berry in the storeroom at the Citadel Community Centre.
It’s Friday evening and things start to get busy outside the storage room at the Citadel Community Centre. The volunteers work on a stair landing because working in the much larger storeroom would create an insurance issue.
Parts are bought, bartered, borrowed and scrounged. Nothing usable is thrown away. Andrew Richards, left, and Adam Berry comb through the collection looking for a part: “There’s gotta be one somewhere in here.”
Friday at work
With the action picking up, something catches Adam’s eye as he walks by Imad. It’s a busy evening and Adam tries to make sure everyone’s got what they need.
At work
Yassir Adem, left, and Bill Rudolph bear down on a tricky repair.
Crowd 12W
Saturday, July 15: The mood is light and expectant as people gather to collect their bikes at Clayton Park Junior High. Welcoming Wheels set up on an outdoor basketball court to present the bikes and provide safety training. It was also a great place to practise your Arabic, Tagalog, French, and likely several other languages.


Danny Dimatera, who has biked “hundred and hundred of miles” in the Philippines, stands by to help people adjust their bikes to fit. “Bikes build confidence,” he says. One of the last-minute jobs was attaching bells to handlebars. Ever versatile, Turpin Labs abandoned its journalistic detachment to install not just one, but TWO bells. Whew!
Ahmed Hamid
Shikh Mous Alahmad tries on his new bike. Many immigrants need bikes for economic reasons, not just for recreation.
Bright dress
Masiko Sebatakane can’t wait to get out on the road. Every bike comes with a light, a bell, a helmet and instruction in cycling safety.
Girl cropped for web
Wafaa Hamid, left, waits somewhat patiently for Danny Dimatera to make the final adjustments to her bike while her father, Ahmed, looks on.
Girl gets bike
… and she’s aboard! Volunteers want to make sure she can ride and remind her about the safety training. But she takes off smoothly and starts circling the court on her own: “I’m OK. Thank you. Goodbye.”