Gabriel Echeverria is rarely seen around Pescadero without his blue mountain bike with his guitar strapped to the back. The bicycle, a gift from Puente in September, is his means of commuting to the plant nursery where he works.
“It’s really a great way to get around the area. Going by foot is a huge disadvantage. I use my bike every time I go out. I go to the bank, to the post office, to the beach every now and again,” says Echeverria, a Puente board member, song leader, and friendly figure among farm workers.
Seventeen years in, Puente’s bike program is still one of its most iconic and essential services. Dozens of local farm workers rely on Puente’s donated bikes – and its free bike repair – to make their independence possible. “A bike makes a huge difference in someone’s life around here. It removes a barrier and gives people a level of freedom they didn’t have before,” explains Ben Ranz, Puente’s Community Outreach Coordinator and facilitator of the bike program.
Puente gives out about 25 bikes a year, but demand exceeds supply – Ranz is always on the lookout for adult mountain bikes in good condition. Most farm workers ride a mile or more on a bumpy dirt road to get to the field they’re working in that day. They also ride from one side of a farm to another. Those are hard on their bikes.
Enter Farm Bike Day, a special outreach event on the coast that brings the mechanics to the people. On October 18, several bike mechanics and gearheads visited a Pescadero ranch called Campinotti, home to many farm workers and families, and spent the day fixing their bikes for free.
Farm Bike Day is now in its third year. It was the brainchild of a woman named Every, who stewards the ever-popular Bike Booth at Puente’s farmers’ market. She repairs perhaps two or three bikes per market day. But not everyone can make it to the Market. Those who show up are usually people who can get off work early enough to wait while she works on their bikes, and young people, and those who have a big enough car to tow their bikes to the market.
In other words, not a lot of farm workers.
“When she came on the scene, she realized how challenging it was to get people’s bikes to the market, and she said, ‘I want to take this into the field,’” recalls Ranz.
Lior Shaked, a fellow bike mechanic who used to share time at the Bike Booth before he moved away, helped recruit the first group of local Farm Bike Day volunteers through an online Meetup group.
But Puente owes much of its bicycle repair program to Kyle McKinley of The Bike Church in Santa Cruz. He came up with the idea for the Bike Booth and The Bike Church now provides Puente with many bike repair parts and equipment at cost.
Additionally, Puente’s volunteer-based bike program relies on generous contributions from a few Puente donors who are passionate about bikes and the way they empower local men, women and children.
La Honda resident Liz Chapman has been supporting the bike program since Puente founder Rev. Wendy Taylor founded it in the late 1990s. After Rev. Taylor left, Chapman helped Puente provide continuity by finding some farm workers who knew how to repair bikes – which they did for a time, until Shaked and Every became Puente’s permanent bike mechanics.
Chapman’s financial contributions, and those of other bike supporters, help Puente pay for extra bike repairs as needed.
“It’s become clear to me this is so enabling for these guys who don’t have a car,” says Chapman, who in an avid bike rider herself. Even people who have cars may do better getting around Pescadero by bike rather than driving, she believes.
Echeverria’s current bike is actually the second one he received from Puente. The first came from Rev. Taylor back in 2000. Echeverria met Rev. Taylor back when she was giving out bicycle lights to keep farm workers safe at night.
“That’s where she got the idea to give away bikes,” he recalls. “She was walking around giving out the lights for people’s bikes, and people would say, ‘Well, I don’t even have a bike.’ So that’s where it all started.”
Eventually Rev. Taylor surprised him with a mountain bike to replace the creaky road bike he had worn to bits.
“In those early days, there were very few people who donated bikes. To this day, Puente is more complete,” says Echeverria.
Farm Bike Day was the first of a series of Puente field outreach programs that, taken together, mark a shift in focus toward connecting services with residents who may find it difficult or intimidating to come into Puente. One recent example is Puente’s new program to send community health workers out to rural ranches. The health workers, known as Promotoras de Salud, are being trained to help connect people to health insurance and plug them into the medical clinic and mental health programs housed within Puente.
“I feel like putting the effort into bringing services into the field is the logical next step for Puente,” says Ranz. “This helps us cast our net as wide as we possibly can.”
You too can support Puente’s bike program:
• Puente seeks donations of adult mountain bikes in good working condition only. No street bikes or bikes with rusty or broken parts. (NO CHILDREN’S BIKES, please. Donate those to South Coast Children’s Services.)
• Make a financial donation to Puente’s bike program here. Thank you!