Campus bike shop keeps the wheels turning for NDG cyclists
The Physical Services Building, or PS building, seems like any other Loyola building. Located at the back of the campus in the middle of a parking lot, the building hides an interesting room, one urban cyclists would refer to as a bicycle paradise.
Stacked with handlebars, pedals, wheelsets and bike frames, PS-141 is home to Le Petit Vélo Rouge, a non-profit bike shop opened in 2010 by Concordia students. Their goal was to build bikes out of used parts and sell them to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford one.
“A bike can totally change someone’s life,” said Noah Sadaka, a volunteer at Le Petit Vélo Rouge. “When you’re not dependent on paying over $100 a month for STM passes, it’s a huge gain.”
“I used to live in Toronto, where the metro passes are much more expensive than in Montreal, so I decided to start biking,” said Sam Little, another volunteer at Le Petit Vélo Rouge. “That’s how I started learning to fix them, and my knowledge of bike mechanics grew from here.”
Before it was occupied by Le Petit Vélo Rouge, PS-141 was Concordia’s storage space for bikes that were left unattended for over six months. Eventually, if unclaimed, the bikes were given to charity. Le Petit Vélo Rouge used these bikes to start this student-run organization.
The bike coop’s current goal is to promote cycling and sustainable culture in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG) community. In fact, other than disposable parts such as brake pads and chains, all parts are recycled from old bikes.
Le Petit Vélo Rouge accepts volunteers from all cycling backgrounds. Being an expert in bike mechanics is not a requirement. In fact, most of the volunteers learned most of their repairing skills in the shop.
“Another part of our mission is having people improve their cycling skills and empower them to be able to repair their own bikes so that they don’t have to pay a bike shop,” said Sadaka. Inside the shop are five bike repair stands. Sadaka and Little say they are always in use during the summer by cyclists fixing their bikes.
“Last year, we even had people in the hallway tuning their bikes,” said Sadaka.
While the shop might be full in the summer, that’s not the case during the winter. In fact, having more than five customers a week is rare this time of year. Instead, volunteers focus on building bikes to sell when the temperature heats up. Last year, Le Petit Vélo Rouge was so popular among NDG residents that it did not need to ask for funding from Concordia associations such as Sustainable Concordia and the Concordia Student Union to stay open. This was a first in the shop’s history.
“We got to a level where we made enough money solely by selling bikes that we no longer needed to apply for grants,” said Sadaka.
Volunteers at Le Petit Vélo Rouge are not alone in making biking affordable for all. Bernard Blouin, a 63-year-old bike commuter who conducts research on alternative medicine in his free time, is currently working on home-made winter tires. He is a year-round regular at the shop.
“These kinds of tires cost around $200 and can really make a difference in winter,” said Blouin. “My goal is to start selling them to students at around $70 for them to be safer during winter.”
“If you can make enough for next winter at such a low price, we might consider selling them,” said Sadaka, teasing Blouin.
The shop has been supportive of Blouin’s idea by supplying him with the proper materials. These kinds of tires are equipped with metal spokes to properly adhere on icy roads.
Blouin has been building recycled bikes for more than five years now. Finding a shop with all the right tools was a gem, according to the cyclist.
“Bike tools are really expensive and really only have one utility,” said Blouin. “It’s really helpful to have such a privileged access to them.”
Sadaka and Little hope the shop will keep self-sustaining and helping the biking community in NDG grow. In the meantime, Le Petit Vélo Rouge will keep passing on its passion, one bike at a time.
Photos by Jad Abukasm.