Students and staff at work. SHAWN COERS

Impact felt locally, internationally

Since 2015, the Broken Spoke Bike Program has been up and running through the Port Colborne High School. Aubrey Foley, its instructor, recalls how the program was started.

As an avid cyclist, he was no stranger to bike damage and having to wait around at bike repair shops. Foley decided to teach himself how to fix his own bike, and became increasingly popular around his neighbourhood for repairing others’ bicycles.

With his skill being more widely recognized, a friend of his asked if he would repair a bike for her to drop off in Cuba and he agreed.

Then after seeing a post about the bike heading to Cuba on Facebook, the school principal asked Foley to come to Port Colborne High School, teach students how to fix bikes and give them something hands-on to do.

Foley said that he put together a work area and tools, at no cost to the school board, and is now teaching two morning classes on a regular basis.

The program collects used or damaged bikes, refurbishes them and gives them away to people in need of transportation, or provide to those less fortunate. The bikes are distributed not only in the community, but also to international organizations.

Their bicycles have been transported to Guatemala, Cuba, Haiti, and elsewhere, through various charities.

60 refurbished bikes being loaded for transport. SHAWN COERS

With Foley and teacher Shawn Coers supervising, the students in the program learn to fix the bikes that come into their shop and receive credits through the High School Special Credit Program (co-op). They also have the opportunity to pick their own bike to repair, build and keep for themselves.

Those involved in this experience learn mechanical skills, help the environment, and also get the opportunity to give back to their community.

“It makes you a better person to help people and be able to provide them with something that will make them happy,” said Foley.

The environmental benefits of fixing old and damaged bikes are that it reduces landfill waste and it’s supporting a green transportation substitute.

“A bike has no fossil fuels, emissions or effects on the environment,” said Foley. “It helps our earth and keeps things green.”

To make an even greater environmental impact, The Broken Spoke Program partnered with the Niagara Region.

The Region has been setting aside bicycles at their landfill depots for Foley to pick up and take back to the school to be refurbished. Bikes are also accepted free of charge from residents at drop-off depots all year round.

“This allows us to change our diversion from being recycled to being reused. We should reuse as our number one priority,” said Andrew Winters, Program Manager, Waste Disposal Operations at the Region.

According to Winters, in 2019 just over 2000 bikes were donated to the Broken Spoke Program from landfills. Since their partnership in 2016, some 6000 bikes were saved from being turned into scrap metal and given instead to the Broken Spoke team.

Staff and students who participated in the program were awarded certificates for the impact they have made in partnership with the Region. They were also given the Silver Excellence Award in 2018, from the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA).

“If we can bring in and distribute almost 10,000 bikes in five years, imagine the environmental impact we could make if more schools did it,” said Foley.