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Yuma bike shop a pit stop for those in need

YUMA, Ariz. — Crossroads Mission's efforts in getting people back on the road are often figurative.

With its new bike shop, they're also literal.

In a fenced-in shack where hardware store workers once filled orders — the mission's thrift shop at the same location is a former Foxworth-Galbraith — semi-retired auto mechanic Mike Poling tapped and torqued down on the guts of a bicycle wheel.

The aluminum rim was dented, maybe from hitting a curb, and slated for the scrap heap. The yellowed plastic gear protector was junk. But the axle was good, and many of the spokes could be spared. The gears were rusted tangerine-orange, but "if you soak 'em in tranny fluid or oil, they'll clean right up."

Poling comes to the workshop five days a week to restore donated bikes or part them out to sell or put in reserve for the needy to earn. He'll also take partial bikes and parts to put in his growing stock, and he'll service bikes for a deal.

No bike is too old, battered or discombobulated for the W.J. Anderson Bike Shop, so named for the avid bicyclist and Crossroads supporter who died recently at age 86.

Poling has 40 years of automotive experience. He owned and worked for garages in Phoenix before coming to Yuma a few months ago to be closer to family. He's been in the bike shop for about a month and a half, organizing things and hoping for an expanded presence.

There are, of course, some technical differences between cars and bikes — like motors — but the tinkering isn't really that much different, he said.

He's looking forward to holding free bike repair classes on the shop's covered patio, getting involved in bike rodeos and being a place where the down on their luck can buy or work for a much less expensive alternative to a car. He's also looking forward to partnering with nearby Tom's Paint and Body shop, which he said has agreed to repaint frames.

With gas closer to $4 a gallon, "you might find a lot more people riding a bike than they used to," Poling said.

Crossroads is a broad-based social services agency, with a homeless shelter, soup kitchen and addiction recovery. Gene Dalbey, a member of the board of directors, said the mission has always had a connection to bikes since its clientele often relies on bicycles for affordable transportation. The recently upgraded thrift store space had a logical place to collect them.

Dalbey and Crossroads executive director Myra Garlit traveled to Tucson to visit Bicas, a nonprofit bike repair and recycling collective, and took notes. An appropriation from the United Way helped Crossroads acquire specialized tools and stands to get started.

Dalbey has long enjoyed bikes as a hobby and form of exercise, and his first job as a kid was in a bike shop.

"It's not too hard, especially when you have the right kind of tools."

He figures everybody has a broken-down bike in the garage, and they can bring it in to learn how to fix it up and make it useful — or just donate it. He said bike parts these days are less interchangeable, so the more variety they can get, the better.

Poling said most of the time bikes come in with flat tires plus one other problem that's enough for people not practiced in bike repair to handle, but easy enough for a mechanic.

"If we (can) get everybody to give up their old bicycles they don't use anymore, that'd be a tremendous help."

Every bike sold at the thrift store is checked over and sometimes improved. Poling pointed out a black and green Mongoose Girder that he said wouldn't have been recognizable before. But it was a good bike, with disc brakes and hydraulic suspension. He scraped off the rust, made a few more tweaks and put it on the sales floor.

The little shop brought Poling out of retirement. His dream is to make it full-time (he works only mornings during the week right now) and bring in more employees. Poling is usually a one-man band, with visits sometimes from Dalbey.

He looks around his yard and sees the potential for a lot of nice-looking bikes. Rims dot the fence and forks dangle like lucky horseshoes on the chain link covering the windows. Labeled bins hold front derailleurs and kickstands, handlebar grips and shifters; a recently donated box was still in the yard with a knot of chains and gears.

Children's bikes with white tires and cartoon characters on the frames sit alongside mountain and road bikes, and a few vintage cruisers that Poling guesses date back to the 1940s or '50s. There's even a couple of kick scooters and a three-wheeled jogging stroller for twins.

Many of the bikes don't have seats, as the cloth-covered foam has rotted in the harsh Yuma sun.

"I'd like to find me a nice old lady who could make me some seat covers," he said.

Dalbey and Poling don't mean for their shop to compete with commercial stores, and Johnny Yuma's has been helpful in providing tools and parts. They're excited about the charitable and social angle.

Bikes are simple, requiring relatively minimal maintenance and no pricey gas. They also bring independence to people whose options are limited.

"You keep your tires inflated and you keep your chain oiled, you can pedal till you're tired," Poling said.

Information from: The Sun, http://www.yumasun.com