Free Cycles, the community-driven bicycling nonprofit, is entering the second phase of a fundraising campaign to purchase the property it now rents.
The organization needs to raise $1.1 million by May 8 to remain in its current location, where it offers space for people to build bikes free of charge and to learn bicycling and maintenance basics. It also provides an open shop for riders to repair their bikes.
The owner of the property on the 700 block of South First Street West entered into a buy-sell agreement that gave Free Cycles six months to raise the money to buy the property.
"As of now, we've got close to $100,000 in donations and pledges," said executive director Bob Giordano. "Our target from now 'til Mother's Day is $1 million to top it off and make it a $1.1 million successful campaign and buy the two acres in the heart of Missoula to not just secure our small community bike shop, but then to expand social bicycle services for all."
The online fundraising campaign will go live soon on crowdrise.com/supportthebike. On Wednesday, supporters will hold a pop-up bicycle shop in Caras Park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. They'll offer help tuning up bikes and oiling chains, and they'll give away children's bikes. They'll also encourage people to get their picture taken while holding up their bikes to spell out "Support the Bike," the official slogan for their new campaign.
CrowdRise allows volunteers to sign up as a "team leaders" and set their own personal targets for fundraising.
Giordano hopes those photos and the message spread beyond Missoula, to some of the 200,000 people they've served since 2000 who may have moved elsewhere.
He has even more anecdotes and numbers he can rattle off about the nonprofit's effects.
"So many people have said, 'I built my first two or three bikes at Free Cycles when I moved to town,' or 'My children got all their bikes at Free Cycles and we kept swapping them in over the years,'" Giordano said.
He estimates that last year alone, they served 25,000 people.
"In the summertime, we were seeing close to 200 people a day during June, July and August," he said.
While the warm months bring the most visitors, there are also 40 to 50 people a day during the winter, including a segment of the population that relies solely on bicycles for transportation.
It wasn't the goal, but the purchase would make Free Cycles the world's largest community bicycle center, one Giordano envisions as a model to promote social justice, health, mobility and accessible transportation.
"It's self-empowerment by teaching people to fix their bike or at least provide the tools and space to do that," he said.
A successful campaign would allow Free Cycles to build a community bicycle library, where people could "check out" bikes free of charge; that's a program the nonprofit used in its first two years. The organization could also convert its 28,000-square-foot warehouse into a fabrication center to build bicycles for people with mobility challenges.
"We can make three-wheeled bikes, four-wheeled bikes, recumbents, trailers, parking racks. We're calling this 'Beyond Bikes' because it goes beyond your typical two-wheeler, and there's such demand for this," he said.
For instance, they already make specialty bikes for people who need to exercise but aren't comfortable on a two-wheeler.
Further down the line, Giordano envisions a transportation learning center and a bicycle hostel that could charge, say, $20 a night.
"We sorely need a place geared toward touring bicyclists," he said.
Since launching the campaign late last year, the nonprofit has formed a grant committee to investigate funding sources. They identified 25 foundations that support their causes. The deadlines are too tight for those grants, but Giordano said they're looking toward the nonprofit's needs further in the future.
"Our grant committee is going to keep meeting and keep writing grants. We'll need to keep fundraising to make that bicycle library come to fruition," he said.
They've also courted individuals for big donations.
"We have large donors that we've been building relationships with, and that takes a lot of time. They're ready to donate. We know once we launch this in a public way and create an unstoppable buzz, that we feel confident money will pour into this crowdfunding site," he said. "We hope. We're not 100 percent sure. This is our goal."
The nonprofit has developed a number of contingency plans if it doesn't meet its target.
Giordano said they've investigated the possibility of taking out a mortgage to buy the property and retaining the other current tenants.
"We don't want to have to take out a mortgage, but if we can take out enough money to make a down payment, that's another strong option," he said.
The nonprofit's future isn't in question, though.
"Free Cycles is going to continue. There's no doubt about that. We really want to stay in our home that we've created for 11 years, where our roots have sunk down," he said.
After all, the property sits in Missoula's core at the intersection of two bicycle trails, on a property almost the size of a city block.
"We've had a lot of moral support, and now the challenge is to translate moral support into financial support," Giordano said.