What happens when a person’s love of cycling and desire to help others merge? Marcus Fetch tells us all about Redemptive Cycles, his non-profit business focused on providing transportation for all and a comfortable place to find friends.
I came into Birmingham 5 years ago by accident. I was living on the road and ran out of money so I picked up a construction job and ended up falling in love with the place. A few months in, I found a bundle of bikes for sale on craigslist and knew a bunch of guys at Brother Bryan that needed bikes. So I got a hold of them and started a small weekend bike thing I called Redemptive Cycles.
The original goal was to try and help relieve poverty by getting people bikes or maintaining them. The bicycle is an amazing utilitarian solution and there’s thousands of them stored away in basements and garages that people would donate so it was a no brainer.
After a year of the weekend co-op, I lost my job and dreamed up the crazy idea of a full scale bike shop with charitable services integrated into the model. Our charitable services included the Earn-a-Bike Program, where a client volunteers 12 hours and get a free bike, helmet, lock, and light. We included Sliding Scale Repairs, which does repairs for general public at up to 75% off, Mechanics Classes, both a basics and advanced course we teach monthly, and our Public Work Station, providing all the tools and work area you need to fix on your own bike.
To provide these services you already need everything that a bike shop needs so it made sense to integrate the two to help raise funds. Bikes that are donated are either given away through our programs, parted out and reused, or refurbished and sold for funding. We also sell a variety of new bikes and merchandise, and service public repairs. By establishing the full model we are proud to say we are a non-profit that generates 75% of its total operations cost, thus only having to fundraise the other 25% from or supporters and the city each year.
Redemptive Cycles has become a second home for a lot of people over the years. One thing I aimed at early on was to have an in shop atmosphere that made people feel welcome. Anyone can come in at anytime and start volunteering and hanging out right on the spot, and most days you will see regulars swinging by for an hour to visit.
Cycling groups can easily come off as elitist and judgmental. It was my goal to welcome the casual riders and show that it’s not all about climbing in spandex and grinding 60 miles down a highway on the weekend. Bicycles are amazing in that everyone at any age can enjoy them.
For three years now we have hosted a weekly bike ride on Thursday nights we call the Trample. Over 100 people show up each week to parade through downtown to a park, have a drink, and ride back to party in the back alley. During these weekly gatherings it’s beautiful how diverse the group is. People who would never normally be seen in the same place together are all of sudden riding side by side and befriending each other, closing the socioeconomic gaps that are so strong in our city. Throughout the years this has created the “RC Family” phrase that a lot of people feel like they are a part of. That just might be the thing I’m most proud of.
So many people out there need good friends, a confidante that will listen, a community that will welcome them in and value them. It’s hard to find it in the world sometimes and Redemptive has been able to offer that to so many people, and it all started with a plain old bike. Who would have guessed?
Check out Redemptive Cycles’ upcoming fundraising dinner at: https://www.facebook.com/events/495959314078411/