The clouds hung heavy and low and the smell of beer and hamburgers filled the air Saturday afternoon as people piled into Redemptive Cycles. The local bicycle cooperative celebrated its grand opening this August, drawing a diverse crowd.
“At face value, we’re basically a nonprofit bike shop that sells used bikes that get traded in or donated. We also put together and build Frankenstein bikes. The repairs that we do are based only on the parts’ cost,” Marcus Fetch, the founder of Redemptive Cycles, said as people shuffled in and out of the new shop located on the 1300 block of Second Avenue North.
Fetch said that growing up in an underprivileged home sparked his love for bicycles and spurred him to help those who don’t have the means to afford one.
“I come from a really poor background, and I was always deprived of having a nice bike. So I can just really relate with broke folks. A bike to a broke person can change their life,” the young, mustachioed Fetch said as he leaned back in his chair and sipped a beer donated to the nonprofit by the Good People Brewery.
“We started calling it Redemptive Cycles because not only are we recycling and re-purposing bikes, but we also have redeeming quality for people looking for work. I mean, reliable transportation is that first step between unemployment and a guy getting a job and getting on his feet.”
For Fetch, the idea of providing such a place for the community came about through happenstance. A few years ago, he noticed someone on Craigslist selling 40 bikes in bulk. He knew a lot of people who had the need for affordable bikes, so he went ahead and bought the whole lot.
“I knew so many people like me who needed them to get around to their jobs and whatever it was they were doing, so I bought them. That then turned into the start of this giant mess and soon evolved into our nonprofit,” Fetch said. Nearby, a man tried to climb up and ride one of the outlandishly tall, welded, double bicycles Fetch created.
“So about three or four months ago, we started pushing really, really hard rather than just on the weekends. We needed a space to work, and I had a proposal that asked for discounted rent on the first few months of our rent so we could build up funds. The owner of this building was just really into what we were trying to do,” Fetch said.
Birmingham has long been known for its poorly designed – some say essentially nonexistent — bicycle lanes. Brian Tunnell, a local business owner whose office is located right down the road from Redemptive Cycles, explained how he thinks this could be the beginning of a much needed shift in Birmingham’s lackadaisical attitude toward downtown transportation.
“It’s been a long time coming. There has been a need, I think, for this kind of riding and pedestrian traffic. Birmingham has had a problem with public transportation for a long time. It just seems like it’s been a challenge to get people to adopt the use of bicycles,” Tunnell said as he pointed out his customized low rider cruiser that was garnishing attention from the crowd of bicycle enthusiasts gathered out front.
“In most major cities around the country you have bike co-ops just about everywhere you can think of. It was time Birmingham got on board.* I’m just excited these guys put the work in. Just looking around you can tell how much they’ve worked on it. This place is a knockout,” Tunnell said.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Redemptive Cycles is the “Earn-a-Bike” program that the shop offers. “Basically we offer two options. You can build your own bike, or if you want one of the bikes we already have, we’ll give you a set amount of hours you can volunteer your time by helping clean up bikes or put together bikes. Really, doing anything around the shop, you can earn a free bike,” Fetch said.
Drew Perkins is one of the bike mechanics who has been working with Fetch for about six months. He can be seen riding around town on one of the double bikes, a bicycle that is welded on top of another bike.
“We’re just now started to get our advertising out there, and people are really starting to respond to us. The people who have come in have been really surprised by our prices because they’re reasonable. We just want people to be able to afford a bike,” Perkins said.
As for their location on Second Avenue, Perkins has high hopes. “We’re in a place that’s on the verge of taking off. We’re right there by Good People, who gave us a bunch of beer. And being here we’re starting to find out that everyone in Birmingham kind of needs each other. There is beginning to be a big DIY scene here in Birmingham, and we’re starting to feel the service we provide was a missing piece of the puzzle,” Perkins said.
Tunnell thinks the emergence of alternative transportation is a positive as Birmingham celebrates its rebirth. “There is such a revitalization going on downtown right now, I think it is the perfect time for a place like this. People are going to see something really smart, which is something that this city in particular has needed for a long time.”
Redemptive Cycles is located at 1305 Second Ave. N. For more information, visit redemptivecycles.com.
*CORRECTION (7:15 p.m., 9/3/13): As several commenters have noted, Bici Coop has served as the kind of nonprofit bicycling co-op that Tunnell cites a need for since 2009. We failed to balance out Tunnell’s statement in the original copy of this article, and we regret the oversight.