Matteo Wyllyamz never expected to bike up the mountain he had spent many of his formative years in Woodland Park, Colorado living next to. He definitely didn’t expect to bike up it on a 30-year-old bike that he refurbished himself. Last year Wyllyamz and his family moved to West Hill in Ithaca and he decided to find a bike that would get him around town, maybe carry some groceries every now and then. He had been a fairly avid biker while in high school and was eager to get back into it. So, he found a bike on Craig’s List for $140 and integrated it into his daily routine.
“My romantic idea was lifestyle biking, they call it utility biking,” Wyllyamz said. “Just going to get a used bike, throw a basket on there, with the idea of being able to go to Greenstar and Wegmans and throw the groceries in the basket and bike home. That idea totally appealed to me.”
The steel framed Fuji bike was a good fit for the roads of Ithaca and an even better fit for the potholes of Ithaca. But, it needed some work. The first thing he wanted to do was change out the pedals to be able to ride it with his everyday shoes, but he had never changed the pedals before. He’d never really changed anything on a bike before, instead taking it into a typical bike shop to pay someone else to do it. This time was different. His wife Phoebe told him about Recycle Ithaca’s Bicycles (RIBs), a program out of the Southside Community Center that teaches people how to repair and refurbish their bikes.
“So, I went in there and that was my introduction to it. Even though I honestly found the situation to be kind of intimidating because I had never worked on a bike ever, even though I had had many bikes,” Wyllyamz said. “The thing about going into RIBs is they don’t do stuff for you, they help you do it.”
The initial job, changing out the pedals, took longer than he had anticipated, but with the help of a RIBs volunteer, he was able to get it done. Eventually, he also needed to replace the spokes and the axle and make a number of other repairs. With help from RIBs, he learned to do it all, riding his bike throughout the winter. It became, and remains, his primary form of transportation.
Throughout this rekindling love of the bike, Wyllyamz kept in touch with some of his family back in Colorado. His cousin told him that the highway up to Pikes Peak had been paved several years ago and now there was an annual bike race up the 14,000-foot peak.
“The idea popped in my head ‘Wouldn’t that be fun to go back to Colorado and do this thing,’” he said.
He hadn’t been back to Colorado since 2007. By this time, he felt like he was already training, lightly, every day that he biked up and down West Hill. He committed to the race in the spring and began seriously training all summer, riding up and down every hill that Ithaca had to offer. He can name most of them now.
August finally came and Wyllyamz and his family drove out to Colorado for the race, arriving a few days before to spend time with family. But even though he had grown up next to them, the Rocky Mountains still surprised him.
“Boy the mountains look a lot bigger when you’ve been here and you get used to the size of the hills,” he said.
During the race, the bike held up perfectly and even garnered a few compliments from other riders. Wyllyamz did have some anxiety about having an older bike that wasn’t as expensive as some of the higher end, competitive bikes. He didn’t want to be looked down on for having an older bike. What should matter, he said, is the rider’s performance.
That same attitude can be found at RIBs, it’s one of the reasons Wyllyamz is so enamored with the local, eco-friendly, community-oriented operation.
“Essentially, people that are into professional cycling have a substantially different culture than we have at the shop, and they tend to have these inflated and kind of weird ideas about what a ‘good bike’ is or what bikes are necessary for what purposes,” said RIBs director, Nicholas Desystemizer.
At RIBs, it’s about finding, or creating, the right bike for each participant. It’s about ownership of your bike through the hands-on experience of learning to fix it. The elite world of competitive racing, on thousand-dollar bikes, is miles away from the small, unassuming building on the corner of Buffalo and Meadow.
“One of our sneaky goals is that everyone leaves here smarter than they thought they were going to leave here, and therefore more capable of dealing with who-knows-what-else in their life,” Desystemizer said.
The program takes donated bikes and puts them into four categories: strip, sell, build, or scrap. Bikes in bad condition are stripped of usable parts that the shop started selling last year. Bikes in fairly good condition are available for participants to take and work on, RIBs only asks for a donation that the participant sets. Bikes beyond repair get scrapped, and bikes that need very little work are sold. Desystemizer and another part-time staff member work in the shop to help participants with whatever they need, but volunteers also come in to help. There is an expectation that if you are at RIBs and you can help, that you will. It’s part of building a community that is empowered through the skills they learn at RIBS.
“I, basically, over the course of the winter and the spring and then into the summer, redid every single aspect of this bike, and the cool thing about that, in comparison to just dropping your bike off [at a typical shop], is you get to know things about your bike that you wouldn’t,” Wyllyamz said. “You know every single thing. If something starts to sound weird or is acting funny and you stop, you’re more in tune with this machine than if somebody else has done the work.”
Wyllyamz has that confidence in himself, and his bike, because he knows every inch of it. It’s more than just his transportation. Looking to the future, there might be another Pikes Peak ride again.
“And I’m not a triathlete or a marathon runner or anything like that, I’m just a regular guy who decided to do this crazy thing,” he said.
Or, he might just continue to ride to Gimme (his race sponsor) for some fuel, before heading back up West Hill.
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