These women are travelling through rural N.S. fixing bikes and breaking stereotypes

Simone Mutabazi has been travelling across the province this summer fixing bicycles for people who can’t easily access repair shops.

She works as a co-ordinator for The Pop-Up Bike Hub, a project funded by the Ecology Action Centre that caters its services to people of all ages living in rural areas.

Mutabazi describes it as “a mobile cargo trailer that acts as a bike repair space on wheels.”

“Our main goal is providing access to bike repairs and tune-ups for people, because a lot of bike shops in the province are located in a few concentrated areas,” she said.

Mutabazi and her team, which includes interns Annabelle Valiant Fraser and Grace Robinson, work on the bikes free of charge.

“I started with zero experience before the program started, and I feel very proud to learn how to fix a bike. We want to promote this to everyone. If I can learn it, anybody can,” she said with a laugh.

‘Anyone can fix bikes’

The project began in 2020 as a collaboration with an organization called Bike Again that teaches youth how to repair bicycles. That organization is also affiliated with the Ecology Action Centre, which is funded through public grants and donations.

Fraser and Robinson joined the bike hub through the Clean Foundation, a Dartmouth-based environmental charity. Part of the appeal is helping break down gender stereotypes, as well as promoting active transportation and recycling.

Annabelle Valiant Fraser is an intern working at the Pop-Up Bike Hub. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

“Anyone can fix bikes. It’s seen as a male dominated thing and hard to get into but it’s not that difficult.” Fraser said. “Being able to support girls and lift them up to show them that they can do everything that boys can do is something I’ll think about for a long time.”

The trailer houses all the organization’s tools and supplies, like recycled tires, brake levers, shifters and even donated bikes. Fraser and Robinson rely on scrap bicycles for parts and shelve them for future use.

Nearly 2,000 bikes repaired

The team recently travelled to the Sipekne’katik First Nation and Acadia First Nation, and spends a significant amount of time visiting other communities in the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq.

While visiting Millbrook First Nation, Fraser was approached by a child who thanked the team because he couldn’t afford  to fix his bike.

“It’s nice to see those barriers dissolving because we’re there,” she said.

Bike wheels hang on the walls inside a cargo trailer, with other repair supplies contained in buckets on the floor.
The Pop-Up Bike Hub trailer ‘acts as a bike repair space on wheels,’ the project’s community cycling activation co-ordinator says. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

The project has helped repair nearly 2,000 bikes so far, including 215 and counting this year. They also help supply youth with safety essentials like helmets, lights and locks.

There is a mini version of the bike hub too — an e-bike that travels around the Halifax area to give people easier access to free repairs there.

Now Mutabazi is now preparing for the team’s next series of stops in August. They’ll be embarking on a 15-day trek through the Unama’ki Mi’kmaw communities in Cape Breton.

“We are travelling through every Mi’kmaw community there, and our goal is that all of this is replicable,” she said.

“We do our best to impart that knowledge as much as possible to teach the basics, so when we are gone people can do it on their own.”

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