#DoPublicGood is a project highlighting people or organizations that do good by bike. Each month we’ll be shining a spotlight on those who enrich their community through their two-wheeled advocacy. If you have a nominee for #DoPublicGood, please let us know in the comments and if selected we’ll send you both a PUBLIC gift certificate.
We’re taking part too. Follow our Instagram Story (@publicbikes) each Thursday as we bike-courier food from a restaurant to shelter in San Francisco, CA.
In Volume 4 of #DoPublicGood, we interview John Bennett, executive director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign in Savannah, Georgia and founder of New Standard Cycles (NSC). NSC is an inspiring program that refurbishes donated bikes and, with the help of a local nonprofit, gives those bikes to people in the community to whom a bike could change their lives. They also offer bicycle repair classes and bicycle repair options for those who can’t afford it. Read on for our full Q&A with John and more pictures of the incredible work NSC does.
“Our nonprofit partners know their clients and recognize that bicycles can be life changing for them.”
– John Bennett
PUBLIC: Please tell us a little about where you work and what you do.
John: I am executive director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign, a nonprofit bicycle advocacy organization founded in 2008 in Savannah, Ga. I’ve served in this position for about three and a half years. I was one of the organization’s co-founders. In my job I work with government officials to improve and expand our bicycle infrastructure network, provide education programs for children and adults, and organize events to encourage people to make bicycling a healthy part of their daily lives.
PUBLIC: What does New Standard Cycles do?
John: Our program accepts donated bicycles, which are then refurbished by volunteers. We have established partnerships with nonprofit organizations and they identify recipients, for whom a bike can be the deciding factor in getting and keeping a job, going to school, remaining in a treatment program, or staying out of jail. Our nonprofit partners know their clients and recognize that bicycles can be life changing for them. Along with each bike, we also provide lights, a lock, a helmet, and a reflective vest. We also do a holiday bike drive, which provides bikes to children in underserved communities. Finally, we offer bicycle repair classes through a program called the Society of Important Cycling Knowledge (SICK). The goal is to teach people to handle basic bike repairs and maintenance tasks to keep their bikes running safely and smoothly in a friendly and fun environment.
PUBLIC: How did the idea for New Standard Cycles come about?
John: New Standard Cycles is based on a program operated by our friends at Bike Athens in Athens, Ga. We took their model and adapted it to Savannah. We have the highest rate of bicycle commuting in Georgia and many households that do not have access to motor vehicles. This is a city where thousands of people travel to work and other important destinations by bicycle every day. The building in which we are located began its life as a Standard Oil gas station in 1925, so the name New Standard Cycles is meant to acknowledge that history, but also reinforce the idea that bicycles can provide a new standard of mobility and economic empowerment for people in need.
PUBLIC: What do the people who receive donated bikes from NSC use them for
John: Our first bike went to a client, identified by Lutheran Services of Georgia’s refugee relocation service, who had served as a translator for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. He and his daughter were relocated to Savannah and he was hired at a hotel. Commuting to work by bike is faster and more flexible than taking public transit, so the bike we gave him allows him a viable way to get to his job, but also allows him to spend more time with his daughter before and after his shift. A more recent recipient was referred by Emmaus House, an organization that provides meals and other service to homeless people. She had recently moved out of a homeless camp into a more stable housing situation and was entering a job training program. The bike she received from us came along at just the right time for her. And this is what makes our relationships with other local nonprofits so effective. They watch for those precise moments when having safe, affordable, and dependable transportation can make all the difference in the world for someone who’s striving for a better life.
PUBLIC: To date, how many adult and kids bikes have you given out?
John: At this point we refurbish about 100 bikes per year. We also provide minor repairs for people who cannot afford to have their bikes serviced at local bike shops.
PUBLIC: How can people get involved in NSC?
John: We have weekly volunteer sessions, which are managed by professional mechanic. Our volunteers are a mix of people who are capable bike mechanics and those who want to become more competent in maintaining their own bikes. They learn while serving others. We welcome anyone who wants to make life better for their fellow citizens.
PUBLIC: Anything else you’d like to add?
John: Savannah has great potential as a cycling community. We have level terrain, a mild climate (except for July and August), a beautiful natural environment, and historic and cultural resources that attract tens of millions of visitors to our city every year. Savannah’s original city plan, developed by Gen. James Oglethorpe in 1733, has proved durable and sensible guide and is being used as a model by cities around the globe today. Although Oglethorpe predated bicycles by more than century, his city plan creates calm, beautiful, bikeable streets. Unfortunately, parts of his historic plan were obliterated to make way for automobiles. Working with our community partners, we aim to restore and expand the Oglethorpe Plan to ensure that people of all ages and abilities can live comfortably in Savannah without a car.