Rolling, again: Inspired by service and cycling, John Young starts RCK

It’s a rainy, windswept Saturday when John Young arrives at the Oak City Outreach Center in a blue Ford wagon. His wife, Liz Riley-Young, is with him. Their car is packed full with bicycles, tools, repair stands and a large popup canopy so they can work in spite of the elements.

Volunteers begin to join them. Together, they set up shop.

The “shop,” which opened in May 2017, is Raleigh Community Kickstand, a non-profit community bicycle cooperative. For Young, who founded the group, RCK blends a love of cycling, a passion for community service and his Catholic faith.

He was first introduced to Raleigh’s Oak City Outreach Center, which provides weekend meals to those experiencing homelessness and hunger, through his parish. Over the years, he and his wife would serve at the center and, along the way, noticed that many clients were either in need of affordable transportation or riding an unsafe bicycle.

For Young, the mission statement was simple: Fix, teach and give.

It began as a word-of-mouth initiative that grew into a partnership with the Durham Bike Co-op, Peak City Church in Apex, Oaks and Spokes and local bike shops who work together to source bicycles for rehabilitation and parts for use during repairs.

One Saturday a month, RCK organizes and meets at the center downtown to repair and distribute bicycles and teach the maintenance skills necessary to keep those bicycles in operating condition.

Young is adamant that without the bicycling community working together and a grant from the Carolina Tarwheels bicycle club, the Raleigh Community Kickstand project could not succeed. After all, in addition to volunteers, it takes a lot of inner tubes, brake pads, chains and other consumable items to repair more than 100 bicycles a year.

Huddled – and working – underneath the tent he brought to that rainy April afternoon, Young reflected on how grateful he is for the opportunity to help and connect with others. 

“When you serve a meal, you get a moment with a person, but when you’re working on their bike, you really get a chance to talk,” he said as a bike’s frayed cables were being replaced behind him.

Work continues in the tent. Volunteers, known playfully as kickstands, tighten axles and adjust derailleurs. Easy smiles and good conversation are plentiful as knowledge is passed to those who have brought bikes to be serviced.

A short distance away, there is a loud pop as an especially troublesome bolt breaks free and a collective cheer goes up amongst the group.

Two men approach Young’s wife, who is wearing a white baseball cap, and inquire about the four bikes leaning against the wall behind the work area. She informs them that these are spoken for; however, if they would like to, they can sign up on the waiting list for a bicycle, and when one is ready for them they will be notified.

Always ‘on the list’

They ask how the waiting list works. She lets them know, first, that once a name is added to the list it is never removed. No matter how challenging it may be to get in touch with someone, the spot is always reserved. A name, height (to properly size the bike to the rider) and contact information such as a mobile phone number, if available, is all the information they need.

For those who lose the ability to be contacted, they may return to the center when RCK is in session and check back in in person.

Demand is high and the waitlist currently has around 50 names on the waiting list. 

It’s something volunteers are aware of as they serve those around them and, at the end of that wet April afternoon, begin to close up “shop.”

Tools lay in pools of water on tables, cloths are soaked and rivers of water run beneath their feet. As the repair stands are packed away and the tarp is taken down, bikes that once sat still are ready to roll again, enabling their riders to commute to work or other destinations.

To look at the faces of those around the center, one may think the sun had been shining all day.