Uphill battle does not deter Bakersfield cyclists

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One of the many bike racks around the downtown area of Bakersfield. Photo by Graham Wheat.

Bakersfield is not known for its culinary delights or world class restaurants, but there is one kitchen that stands out.

It is not the type of kitchen you are thinking of either. The Bike Bakersfield Bike Kitchen, located in a modest building in the downtown area, is a sweat-equity bicycle co-op for the community. In a region known more for motor-sports and horses, the Bike Kitchen is serving a growing number of cyclists in the Bakersfield area.

While the organization Bike Bakersfield has existed since 2006, the Bike Kitchen came at around the same timeframe, and has served all types of riders ever since. Funded partially by The California Endowment.(The California Endowment funds the Bike Kitchen in Arvin, Ca, however the Bakersfield Bike Kitchen is funded through general funds and revenue generated from part sales.)*** As the Bike Kitchen continues to grow, it relies on volunteers and community partnership to serve the increasing number of cyclists.

The Kitchen serves a dual purpose for the organization. Bike Bakersfield’s administrative office, littered with half-complete donated bicycles, is located downstairs in an old downtown building.

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Resources can come directly from donation. Here, a pile of tires awaits any number of refurbished bicycles. Photo by Graham Wheat.

Jason Cater, the Executive Director of Bike Bakersfield since 2011, captains the co-op from his desk, answering phone calls, setting up community outreach, and still finding a chance to mingle with the volunteers and patrons. A local girl scout troop shared the co-op with me during my visit last week in search of a rider safety seminar sponsored by Bike Bakersfield.

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Executive Director of Bike Bakersfield, Jason Cater, takes time to answer some phone calls during a busy morning. Photo by Graham Wheat

With a background in city planning — Cater attended school at Cal Poly — he came ready to improve the bike path system already in place in Bakersfield. In addition to the Kitchen, Cater has been instrumental in advocating for 50 new miles of bike paths through Bakersfield. He stresses that Bike Bakersfield’s goal is to improve quality of life for people who ride bikes with these new paths.

“What you find if you look at a map of Bakersfield, that those collector streets [streets that feed onto major road ways] build quite a network that can be used for bike lanes and bike routes,”  Cater elaborates on the newest routes.

“People don’t want to be on roads with cars going 60 miles per hour. Putting people in an environment where they are comfortable to ride and have fun riding… that is where we have put in a lot of the lanes, and it has been an effective course,” he said.

The uphill battle to gain biking awareness in Bakersfield does not discourage Cater, however.

“In a city that isn’t so focused on health and air quality, or, like some other communities, climate change… when you’re in Bakersfield the sale really is about the quality of life. What we do is education on why biking is fun and beneficial in a town run by motor-sports. And it comes back to providing that option of getting people out and enjoying the community.”

Beside the administrative hub, the Kitchen offers volunteers and members of Bike Bakersfield the chance to learn bicycle maintenance and mechanic skills all while working towards earning a bicycle of your own. Yet, as is common with bicycle co-ops throughout the country, the selling point seems to be friendship and community rather than just earned bicycles.

From lending tools to offering expertise, the Kitchen has the utensils that any fledgling or veteran cyclist might need.

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Head Mechanic Sean Smith(right) helps asses a problem with a spoke on Tracy Mood’s wheel set. Photo by Graham Wheat.

Becoming a member of Bike Bakersfield requires a $5 monthly fee, and that grants use of the Kitchen’s available tools. Other services, such as purchasing a refurbished bicycle, are open to the public.

The man behind the mechanical expertise is 45-year-old Sean Smith, himself a long-time bike rider. His passion for bicycles is evident. Smith, who pays the bills working as a bike messenger in areas of Los Angeles, travels to Bakersfield to serve the community.

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Photo by Graham Wheat

“I used to have that nine-to-five day job, had to pay the bills for the kids,” says Smith. With his children grown, Smith is focusing his passion for the benefit of Bakersfield cyclists.

“Now, it is about doing something that I love to do,” he chuckled as he attended to some spokes that a rider brought in.

The tire Smith was working on belonged to Tracy Mood, a 26 year-old Bakersfield native. Mood purchased his bike from the Kitchen five months ago and frequents it now for friends and advice.

Smith tinkered at his workbench while Mood hung around waiting for some other friends.

Meanwhile, Cater reflected on the nature of the Bike Bakersfield group and its continual growth.

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Zach Davis, a regular at the Bike Kitchen, gets his measurements right on one of the available bike stands. Photo By Graham Wheat

“There is a close community and there is a lot of different branches to it. There is a pretty diverse group in Bakersfield…. there are a lot of people who bike, who come to the rallies. From fixed gear, to families riding together, it is a very eclectic group,” Cater said.

“There is a big community here, and that is something that people are becoming aware of,” he said.

*** Disclosure: The California Endowment also funds Streetsblog California. Its Building Healthy Communities initiative has offices and affiliates in communities throughout the state, including one in the South Kern region.

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