Ten Years of Create a Commuter – Part 2

This is part two of a two part series. To read about the beginning of the Create a Commuter Program, please click here.

The Create a Commuter program began in 2001, in response to the need for more accessible and affordable bicycle options for low-income adults. To earn a bicycle through this program, adults who are enrolled in workforce training at one of our current employment partner agencies, must be referred through their employment specialist, be interested in using a bicycle as transportation to work, and be within 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. Participants attend a five hour workshop, where they learn the rules of the road, bicycle safety, basic bicycle maintenance, and more. All participants leave with a new bicycle complete with a rack, fenders, lights, tools, maps, a helmet and a lock.

Over the last ten years, Create a Commuter has served close to 2,000 adults in Multnomah County. The program has gone through multiple strategic improvements throughout the years, but the goal has always remained the same: to provide safe, affordable, healthy transportation to participants with barriers to transportation relating to their employment needs. We are constantly striving for ways to more effectively collaborate with our community partners and community members, ensuring that we are providing them with the most useful and relevant information for their circumstances and backgrounds.

Zan Gibbs joined the Community Cycling Center as our Adult Program Manager in 2009, and immediately began to innovate the Create a Commuter program with a social service and social justice lens. In the past, workshops were held primarily at our shop, and were open to any low-income adults with a case worker that could refer them to the program. With the intention of making the program more strategic and participant centered, all workshops are now held offsite with partner agencies in their neighborhoods. Partner agencies must run comprehensive employment programs, and provide an employment specialist to enroll 15-20 participants for the workshops. By holding these workshops at partner agencies, it ensures that participants are in a group with people they already live near or work with. We bring the bicycles to them, allowing us to collaborate with them in their community spaces and within their familiar surroundings and streets.

“The workshops used to be very focused on maintenance,” Zan said. “But now it’s all about experiential hands-on learning. We want participants to understand the mechanics of safe riding and the rules of the road, while enjoying the workshop.” When folks come into the workshop, they’re usually itching to get on their new bicycles. While workshops used to begin with several hours of instruction, today all Create a Commuter workshops begin with interactive helmet and bicycle fitting, followed by a short bicycle ride, so that participants can gain hands-on experience with their new wheels.

Another significant change to the Create a Commuter program is our recent introduction of new bicycles. Previously, all bicycles distributed through the program were donated and refurbished by our shop staff. Now we utilize both new and refurbished bicycles. With the current recession, there has been a significant decline in the donations of high end bicyles to refurbish. In addition, there were too many inconsistencies in the bicycles that were donated. In each workshop there were some participants that would receive high-end bicycles, with others receiving much lower quality bicycles. Over time, we have been moving towards more uniformity across all the bicycles distributed, aiming to provide all of our participants with a simple and highly functional transportation option.

The decision on what new bicycles to start purchasing was a difficult one. Our former Production Manager, Benjamin Jaspers, was charged with the task of finding the best new bicycle that would suit our varied needs. We searched for one that was built to be a commuter. Most of our past Create a Commuter bicycles were refurbished mountain bikes, which often made for difficult limitations. After evaluating many different options at a similar price point, Benjamin recommended that we choose the KHS Urban-X, a commuter that comes with a rack and fenders. “KHS has a nice size range,” Benjamin noted. “You can fit almost anybody with the same model if you put them on the right frame size.”

Another advantage of using new bicycles is that due to their uniformity, we will be able to empower volunteers to build bikes for this program. Benjamin envisioned us one day being a part of a workforce development program, teaching both youth and adults basic mechanic skills while they assemble Create a Commuter bicycles. A program like this would be an excellent stepping stone into entry-level bike shop positions.

Many of our participants are in a transitional period of their life, and giving them a new form of transportation can be a life changing moment. One past participant said, “For me, it is like thinking of my bike as another way of conquering my transitions and no matter how bumpy, this somehow makes it smoother.” As Create a Commuter moves into its second decade, we hope to continue hearing stories like this.

“Bicycling has come really far in the last 10 years,” Zan noted. “People are increasingly choosing the bicycle as a viable method of transportation. Interest will continue to grow irrespective of the economy.” We look forward to helping our community to keep on riding, no matter what their life stage.

Connect with Us

Hours: Open Wednesday-Friday 11AM-7PM & Saturday/Sunday 12PM-5PM. Closed MondayBike Shop Address: 1700 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR 97211

Phone: 503.287.8786