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24 Hours of Bike!Bike!

By Ted King-Smith

The familiar sight of Pittsburgh Filmmakers Institute has become mutated into a giant bike rack bedecked with road bikes, tour bikes, mountain bikes, track bikes and tall bikes. The typically calm café has taken on the air of bus station with sleepy punks and their packs jammed into every corner commiserating on their night of spandex debauchery while drinking coffee and trading flyers. I’m excited to partake of Sunday’s round of workshops now that I have an elusive day off.

First up is a presentation by Guatemala’s MayaPedal a group utilizing imported bicycles in the construction of BiciMaquinas (pedal powered machines) to aid local farmers. Machines such as grain mills, corn shellers, coffee depulpers, water pumps, washing machines, tilemakers and blenders are all fashioned from familiar bicycle components. Mad genius, Carlos Marroquin, showed slides of his designs, as well as demonstrated, in person, the action of his pedal-powered corn sheller which could shell and grind an ear of corn in seconds and could be adjusted for a wide range of users. Carlos attested to MayaPedal’s openness to visitors from the north so consider yourself invited to spend time in Guatemala with their fantastic machines!

Next up on my hit parade was “Bike repair in the African Bush” with David Peckham of Village Bicycle Project. David also used slides to demonstrate the resourcefulness of cyclists in Ghana who could utilize any means to keep their bicycles, a valuable commodity, on the road. Some novel repairs include spoke nipple washers, machete-fashioned from a tin can, and brake shoes replaced with mutilated flip flops. Bicycle Project has made it a priority to supply American bikes and bike materials—much of which get thrown on the scrapheap—to those in Ghana who could use them most.

In a similar vein, “Bike Projects in Africa” showcased Philadelphia’s The Power Exchange and Neighborhood Bike Works joint efforts to provide bicycles, tools and skills to people in Tanzania, a place where bicycle transportation can be the difference between making a living or not. Presenter David Cicero Bevacqua utilized a split-screen video to visualize the economic discrepancies between his home of Philadelphia, and urban Tanzania, juxtaposing American wastefulness with African resourcefulness. David’s presentation focused on his attempts to share bicycle skills and materials with community groups in Tanzania and an assessment of his successes and failures with the project. To those of us who think they know a good deal about the bike trade, it’s refreshing to find ways in which every piece of material can be utilized from delivering someone to distant employment to ingenious labor-saving devices. In reality, nothing needs to be wasted.

The last hurrah of the Bike!Bike! conference, a moonlit bike ride to watch the Pleiades meteor shower, meandered off around midnight. The ride was highlighted by anarchist history lessons courtesy of Erok Boerer, Mister Bike Pittsburgh himself.

Overcast skies nearly kyboshed our meteor-shower viewing, but a courageous crew set forth for a night of pool-jumping and fast riding through the north side of the city, eventually ending up at Jo-Jo’s diner where piles of home fries and coffee were sacrificed to the newly formed Lucky 7 gang (featuring members of Free Ride, LA’s Bike Kitchen, NYC’s Time’s Up!, and more Chicago bicycle projects than I can name). After an impromptu workshop on cycling, gender and politics, we sallied forth to our respective lodgings where I bid my out of town guests a fond farewell at 6:00 am on Melwood Avenue, provisional bike center of the universe.

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