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New free bicycle warehouse provides the pieces for pedal-powered creations

New free bicycle warehouse provides the pieces for pedal-powered creations

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The Pedal Power Warehouse is open for business.

The business? Creating any bicycle machine the human mind can concoct. One is custom-made for a window washer. Many are trailers and three-wheelers. One is even a bicycle bus.

But don't call the funky vehicles "weird."

"Weird is stepping on small animals with high-heeled shoes. That's weird," said Mike Doerner, a volunteer sorting scrap steel from usable bicycle parts at the warehouse. The bicycles? "Need more of 'em."

The Pedal Power Warehouse is the largest recent addition to MIST, the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation. MIST operates Free Cycles, a community bicycle shop, on South First Street West. A stone's throw away, Pedal Power Warehouse is the latest venture of the nonprofit focused on active and green transportation.

"We just kind of let people do their dreaming and help them," said Bob Giordano, executive director of MIST.

MIST has a dream of its own. The nonprofit is paying rent, and Giordano said it will launch a capital campaign called "Free Cycles Forever" at Saturday's event, with a $200,000 goal to eventually buy its own place. That way, more donation money can go to bicycles instead of rent.

Free Cycles builds commuter bicycles for adults and children. The Pedal Power Warehouse will focus on more industrial uses. A window washer, for instance, wanted a bicycle that could haul the business around. So Joel Williams, who works at the warehouse and also operates The World of Bicycles, designed a bicycle outfitted to haul tall ladders, short ladders and window-cleaning supplies.

The bike can take a beating, too. Williams hopped onto the back and jumped up and down as hard as he could to demonstrate its stability. The vehicle didn't rattle.

"If it can take that, it can take anything," Williams said.

Some people want to come in and build a wild design, and Giordano said he doesn't want to quash their creativity as long as the shop isn't busy. More commonly, people are asking to build three-wheelers, many for balance and mobility reasons.

"We've see that demand over the last three years more and more," Giordano said.

Trailers also are in high demand. Some are flatbeds, such as the one Doerner used to haul some 200 pounds of scrap away. Old bicycle parts are used to create the new machines, such as the tire tubing used as webbing on the bottom of one attachment.

Giordano opened Pedal Power Warehouse because space in the community bicycle shop already is at a premium, and there isn't room to work on larger projects. He wants to hear the community's ideas for the future of the warehouse, too.

"We are just testing the waters. We know there's demand," Giordano said. "Can this be a financially viable aspect of Free Cycles? Probably. Not for sure."

Free Cycles opened in 1996 and is running on donations only. It's open some 250 days a year, and last year, 12,000 people used its services to fix up their own bicycle or build a new one. The nonprofit also teams up with the schools on educational programs for children and recently renovated middle-school bikes for children in Florence.

"We're getting real close to giving away our 10,000th cycle," Giordano said.

A team from the University of Montana College of Technology built a fast recumbent bicycle on site and just submitted it to a competition of human-powered machines in Bozeman.

"It's unique. It's got a roll bar. It's beautiful," Giordano said.

Many old bicycle parts go into the new creations, and Free Cycles always is taking in donations. On Tuesday, Otto Seagrave, 5, dropped off a tricycle because "I'm too old for it." But he and his dad had purchased a new bicycle for $5 at a garage sale.

"It's fun. You know what we did today? We biked my two sisters to their school," Otto said. "I can drive my bike with one hand."

The biggest project under way at the new warehouse will require many hands, or many feet: A bicycle-powered bus is under construction. It will have space for 21 riders who also are pedalers. Giordano said there's been interest from senior citizens, who may see the bus as a social way to get some exercise.

"As far as I know, it's the first pedal-power bus in the world built from scratch," Giordano said.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, or on


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