Reiðhjólabændur brings bike power to the people
We’re living in a decaying system under capitalism. When you tire of interacting with people through screens, it’s time to look inward and reach out to your neighbours and community members for connection. This article is the first in The Neighbourhood Watch — a series focusing on the individuals and groups working to benefit their local community.
Cycling up to Sævarhöfði 31, I am greeted by two silos stretching up to the sky and scores of bicycles lined up in neat rows. Gone are the days of cement production at this warehouse on the outskirts of Reykjavík. Instead, the site has been taken over by cyclists, volunteer mechanics and community organisers. I pull up on my bike in search of Birgir Birgisson. Asking the volunteers where I could find him, a mechanic directs me to the silos. “Señor Birgir is over there.”
Freeing the children
Birgir Birgisson is a member of the cycling group Reiðhjólabændur, or Bicycle Farmers, a community organisation of cyclists who initially met for group rides around the city but, since the summer of 2022, has centred their focus on collecting and repairing bicycles to be redistributed to marginalised groups. Reiðhjólabændur has recently teamed up with the Icelandic chapter of Save the Children to supply children and their families with bicycles, in addition to the asylum seekers, refugees and low-income individuals they had already been supplying.
Birgir fronts most of the day-to-day operations, collecting used bikes from all over town, organising the workshop and sometimes even delivering bikes to their new owners. “We acquired our first bikes when a person contacted me saying their building council’s spring cleaning uncovered a dozen bicycles not claimed by anyone,” Birgir says.
Birgir is quick to point out the number of bikes they have since refurbished. “We’ve repaired hundreds of bikes,” he tells me. “In that shed,” Birgir says, pointing to a shack connected to the defunct siloes, “there’s probably close to 200 kids’ bikes.” Birgir’s passion for two-wheeled autonomy shines through. “There is no other object in the world that increases a child’s freedom to travel. A bike expands their worldview and empowers them,” he says.
An unconventional birthday
Having noticed the amount of work put into the project, I wondered what brings a person to devote such time and effort to it. “I am so full of energy and need to direct it somewhere. I want to put it towards constructive initiatives and projects that are useful,” Birgir answers me. “I want to do something related to working with people, and you can’t find more grateful people in the world than refugees and those marginalised in our society,” he says.”
After some time chatting outside, Birgir ushers me into the workshop. The floor is crowded with mobile workbenches and tools, the walls reverberating with the chatter of people at work. Birgir brings me further into the building to a corner of plush armchairs and sofas arranged around a TV. “We’re trying to get a Playstation working because some of the volunteers bring their kids with them,” he tells me.
As we return to the main working space, a man approaches with doughnuts and wishes Birgir a happy birthday. “It’s your birthday?” I ask, surprised. Before Birgir replies, the gathered volunteers start singing “Happy Birthday” in English, Spanish and Icelandic. I happily lend my voice to the chorus.
Join the fun by checking out the Reiðhjólabændur Facebook group and attending the weekly workshop nights – every Monday from 18:00 to 21:00 at Sævarhöfði 31. Everyone is encouraged to show up and lend a helping hand – prior experience is not necessary.
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