Unlike many bicycle manufacturers, Rebicycle’s workshop was set up with the customer in mind. From one work station to the next, they walk you through the process: take an old bicycle frame, strip the parts, wash it down, and then move it to the work bench where the transformation begins. Rather than select from stock choices, you can fully customize your bike, from the frame to the handle bars, break levers, internal gears, modern crank sets, and more.
Their approach to the shop’s structure is as unconventional as their business model, a model built around a fact that Ben Adler (volunteer and strategic advisor) shared with us: “We probably have the largest collection of vintage bikes in Montreal right now. I think that’s safe to say.”
Starting last year as a collective of volunteers—except for the mechanics, who are all professionals recruited from amongst Montreal’s finest—the non-profit has grown quickly, both in scale and in reputation. Now that they’re getting more attention and the concept is proving itself, Ben tells us that “our main goal as a project is to change the way people perceive used bikes (and used things in general) by raising the standard of used bikes in Montreal.”
Anyone who has bought a used bike in Montreal might have an idea of what Ben means. Getting in touch with a stranger on Kijiji and meeting up in a dark alley to make an exchange for something with questionable quality and an even more questionable source (many of those bikes are stolen) has traditionally been the go-to option for people unwilling to shell out big the big bucks for a new bike.
In contrast, Rebicycle is filling a gap in the city’s market by providing high quality, road certified, used bikes with a year long warranty—exactly like a new bicycle manufacturer.
“We want to free people from the idea that a used bike is settling. A used bike is better in a lot of ways: they’re more ecological and they’re made here in Montreal from local labour.”
But buying a used bike is more than just cost-efficient, it’s an investment in a story: “There’s one bike that we call the Titanic. It’s an old CCM from the 1940s and it literally looks like it came from the Titanic. It’s covered in rust. Rust, upon rust, upon rust. We’re getting it sandblasted to see if the frame is structurally sound to repaint and do a full refurbish on it. The machine shop told us that they thought it was still fine, so we’re going to see what it looks like underneath.”
And the best part: “We check the serial numbers of all of the bikes we get against the CPIC, which is the Canadian stolen goods registry, to make sure that they come from a legitimate source.”
95% of those bikes come from Cyclo Nord-Sud, a charity that sends bikes to South America, Africa, and several countries in the Caribbean to provide transportation for people who need it. The partnership arose when Cyclo Nord-Sud realized that the oldest bikes they were sending would end up sitting in warehouses, rusting, because the tires are too skinny to ride on bumpy, muddy roads. The solution was to sell those bikes to Rebicycle, making money to fund the charity and giving new life to bicycles that can be loved by Montrealers.
“It’s a social enterprise, though everyone has a different definition of what that means. For us, it means that instead of a charity that relies solely on government handouts or donations, we have activities that help sustain the project, but we still do things that help the community or the environment.”
To put it simply, Rebicycle supports Cyclo Nord-Sud’s project by donating money, and Cyclo-Nord-Sud supports Rebicycle by providing a traceable source of bikes that they can strip down and refurbish here in Montreal.
But these bikes take a lot of time, a lot of patience, and a lot of very specific tools and very specific knowledge. That’s one of the reasons why Ben believes nobody has been able to pull this off before — it’s really, really difficult.
Despite the labour-intensive nature of the project, in the few weeks that we visited the shop, we noticed the number of bikes on display dropped considerably. So we asked Ben if things were going well for them: “Things are going very well. We don’t have many of the nice bikes in the shop right now because we’ve sold all of them.”
To learn more about how Rebicycle functions as a social enterprise, check out their mission here.