In early March, when Liberal MP for Halifax Andy Fillmore announced a big federal investment of $400 million in active transportation funding across Canada, he stood in front of Bike Again, the volunteer-run, do-it-yourself bike shop in Halifax’s north end, for his photo-op.
The Charles Street bike shop was a fitting backdrop. The federal money Fillmore pledged aims to set up a fund for active transportation projects, and develop a strategy for how to spend it over five years. It’ll go towards “anything at all that removes barriers to accessible movement of people by their own power,” said Fillmore. And barrier removal is an area of expertise for Bike Again, whose Pay What You Can, gender-non-confirming/trans/women-only nights, newcomer outreach and over-all more-than-just-a-bike-shop ethos make it a shining example of what barrier-free active transportation means.
But even as Fillmore dangled dollars for active transportation, Bike Again’s future was hazy. Just 25 days earlier, its Charles Street home was put up for sale. And while the property hasn’t sold yet, that could change any time in Halifax’s red-hot real estate market.
Raoul Tanyan is the volunteer coordinator with Bike Again, and when he heard the building was on the market, the first thing that went through his mind was that this was definitely something that was bound to happen. “The north end is gentrifying very quickly,” he says.
Then Tanyan’s next thought was that after a sale is made, this won’t be the first time Bike Again has had to move, and “as a collective, we're a resilient bunch of volunteers,” he says. “No matter where we end up, we're going to be able to serve the community.”
The site up for sale consists of two lots. One has Bike Again’s main shed, the other hosts a house which is currently rented on Airbnb and a second garage that stores bikes that have been donated and fixed up, awaiting their new jockeys and a chance to hit the road.
The main shed has the big garage door that’s cranked up on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and anyone walking down Charles Street can peer in a see a flurry of activity: Bikes for sale piled at the front of the garage, the ceiling strung with tires and wheel hubs, spokes and rims, workbenches meticulously organized in the way only volunteer-run spaces can be. The space is shared with Welcoming Wheels, which aims to connect newcomers with bikes and community, and both programs operate under their parent organization, the Ecology Action Centre.
Anika Riopel, the Welcoming Wheels coordinator with the EAC, echoes Tanyan’s sentiment that the organizations are resilient and relentless, and their work is so needed and appreciated in the community that no matter what happens they’ll continue to exist. “They serve a portion of the community that are often underserved for socioeconomic reasons, for race, gender, whatever that is,” says Riopel. “And so the point of these spaces is to make cycling as inclusive and accessible as possible to everyone in a city.”
Which sounds a lot like what Fillmore was talking about when he used the space to announce funding, which has yet to be assigned to any specific projects in Halifax or elsewhere.
Bike Again’s lease with the current landlord still has at least a year on it, but The Coast was unable to confirm if a new owner would be legally required to honour it. Should Bike Again have to move–the fifth time in its 20-year existence–it’d join the list of Halifax organizations and small businesses struggling to find affordable rents on the peninsula.
With a current rent of under $2,000 per month, and a business model that keeps things afloat thanks to lots of volunteer labour, the sale of refurbished bike parts and bikes at accessible prices (from $70 for lower-end bikes to a couple of hundred for finer rides), new ownership looms like a dark cloud on a day scheduled for a sunny cycling adventure. Especially at a time when demand for bikes and interest in cycling has boomed–thanks to COVID-19, and incrementally improving cycling infrastructure in the city–the thought of losing a community hub even for just a few months to relocate is worrying.
“Everyone from all walks of life” benefits from Bike Again, says Tanyan. “From people who are curious about bike mechanics, just want to get better at wrenching on their own bikes, to people who absolutely need this kind of space because they can't afford to go elsewhere. It also serves for people who use the device for their livelihood, like people still use it as transportation–as their primary mode of transportation.”
The lots at 5664 and 5668 Charles Street have been “pending sale” since one day after they were listed for sale at $999,999—an 83 percent increase since the property was last sold in 2014. Whether or not a sale changes things is up in the air. But until then, anyone can drop by and learn some things about cycling and community, or become a volunteer–no bike nerdery level required.
The bike, says Tanyan, is “what we use to break into the community.” But just a bike shop it is not. “We are part of the community and offering a safe space, welcoming space.”