A Trip to Mexico: Bike Repair as Community Service – Cycling West
By Jamie Morningstar — One of my family’s most treasured annual traditions is our trip to Colima, Mexico to visit, serve, and enjoy precious time at the Hogar de Amor Orphanage. We started traveling to Colima in 2013 and over the years have formed deep relationships with the children and caregivers. We usually take a large group to Mexico for the trip and spend our time doing projects around the orphanage, doing activities with the kids and having a wonderful time together.
But, of course, the past two years have been anything but “usual”. We had to cancel last year’s trip altogether and this spring we traveled as a small family rather than dropping a large group. This meant that we also had to rethink our normal schedule of activities at the orphanage, as we wouldn’t have enough people to undertake big projects. Also, since schools are still not open in Colima, we needed to target activities that we could ideally do with the children.
Slowly an idea emerged: what about bike repairs?
I hadn’t really thought of bike repairs as a form of commitment and community service, but the more we thought about the idea, the more it made sense. We could bring a set of basic bike repair tools and supplies that we could leave with the orphanage staff for future maintenance. Not only would we engage the kids while we were there, but we would also teach them skills they could use to take care of their own bikes. Plus, we love bikes!
We reached out to our local bike shop, Mad Dog Cycles, who kindly worked with us to sponsor and work out a discount on supplies to take to Mexico. We made our best guesses about the things we would need (more on that below), and we were on our way!
We had so much fun hanging out with the kids, getting greased and dirty together, fixing and fixing parts, spray painting bikes, and turning cute, run-down bikes into bikes the kids were excited to ride. use. We made a lot of mistakes along the way and we think we lost the trust of several kids the first day we had to find out on YouTube how to use a chain breaker. What we lacked in skill, we made up for in an adventurous and collaborative spirit. We had a blast.
At the end of the first day, we only had three repaired bikes to show off for our day’s effort, and we were feeling a bit sheepish. Then a caregiver brought us back to the purpose of our time, reminding us that every bike brought ten smiles and a whole day of fun together – and that was the real reason we were in Mexico.
It was fun to see the different jobs the kids gravitated towards. Some loved taking the bikes apart and really got into the mechanics of the thing. Others liked to clean the bikes and prepare them for painting, removing every decal. Some loved the painting (ok, they all loved the painting). A few children stayed with us all the time, some came and went. That’s part of what made this activity so great – it appealed to a diverse group of kids in a variety of ways.
After 9 years of annual trips to the Hogar de Amor orphanage, this was one of our absolute best trips. We engaged with children in a unique way, side by side and with very dirty hands. This got me thinking – you don’t have to travel to another country or an orphanage to engage with your community on bike repairs. Perhaps you could organize a repair afternoon for a local elementary school, or for your neighborhood or church. I’d even bet there’s a person in your neighborhood with a broken down bike that they’d love to ride, if only someone could help fix it.
I love cycling because of the community bonds I create on the bike. And now I love the bike even more because of the community bonds I create by putting the bike back together!
If you want to run a bike repair clinic, here is our list of recommended supplies.
Basic bike kit (what you will need all the time and can leave for people to do their own repairs)
- Multi-function bike repair tool with a variety of hex keys and a chain breaker
- An adjustable wrench
- A pair of needle nose pliers
- Tube Patch Kits
- Chain lubricant
- An inexpensive screwdriver with multiple bits
- A sturdy tool bag to store everything
Other things to have on hand
- Some new channels
- A few tubes (but in our experience it’s hard to anticipate the sizes you’ll need, so don’t buy too much). We used mostly 16″ and 20″ tubing on our trip.
- WD-40 or another all-purpose lubricant
- One or two pumps
- A can of penetrating lubricant, such as PB Blaster, for rusty bolts
- A hacksaw, for those bolts you really can’t remove
- Some sets of brake cables
- Spray paint for metal and clear putty. Remove the nozzles before they are within the reach of children – trust me.
- A roll of painter’s tape, to make cool stripes on the bikes you paint
- A few sets of pedals (mostly 1/2″)
- A few sets of handles
- Some bike seats
- A truly adventurous spirit and sense of humor, and the knowledge that you can’t solve every problem, but you can be grateful for the ones you can!
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