Derry woman revitalises cycling by giving life to old bikes

Life Cycles is a new bicycle workshop based at the Zero North West Hub on Spencer road.

By Conor McClean
Thursday, 26th May 2022, 2:18 pm
Monica Downey at Life Cycles workshop.
Monica Downey at Life Cycles workshop.

Monica Downey created the initiative and has been a cycling instructor for the past 14 years. Life Cycles rescues and repairs old bikes from landfill, and bikes that have been donated locally.

The announcement of lockdown in March 2020 inspired Monica to do more for the people of Derry in regards to cycling. Monica has delivered 30 workshops on bicycle repair and maintenance with different groups within the city.

In partnership with Zero Waste North West and in collaboration with 4Rs New 2 You, the Charity Thrift Shop, and the North West Greenway Network and Sustrans volunteers, Monica and her team has distributed 150 repaired bicycles into the public.

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Monica Downey.

“Things changed at the start of the lockdown and many people returned to cycling for exercise and transport,” said Monica.

“I wasn’t able to reach people so I started by putting up a Facebook cycling information page. Cycling had taken off, so I wanted to support people, especially those that hadn’t been on a bike for a long time.

“During this time, there was also a shortage of second hand bikes, and many family and friends came and asked if I had any spare ones, or if I could fix their broken bikes.

“The weather was great and I wasn’t going anywhere, plus I had all the bike tools I needed and a large back garden. Most bikes coming through only needed basic repairs, plus I was enjoying the challenge of learning about more complicated repairs on different bikes.

“I then thought if I can do this, (as an older woman) people of all ages could learn the basic workings of their own bike, but I needed support and the tools to kick the project off.

“This also planted the seed of saving bikes from landfill, up-skilling people in repairing bikes and putting them back into the community, plus keeping money circulating in the local community.”

After fixing bikes to the best of her abilities, Monica sought advice and expertise from local mechanics.

With a mountain of work to fulfil, Monica decided to join forces and become a member with the Zero Waste North West group, who aim to end the ‘waste generation crisis’.

“I knew I would have to team up with people of the same thinking, as I couldn’t do this myself,” she said.

“We set up a meeting with the Derry and Strabane District Council, and asked if they could redirect bikes from the landfill so that we could get them fixed and back out to the community again. A pilot was agreed, with me as a basic bike fix, Jim Keys and Mark McDonagh both as engineers and experienced mechanics, along with our dedicated team of volunteers. We contacted the Bike General who was able to oversee everything, and check that all bikes were roadworthy.

“In order for Life Cycles’ volunteers to fix the bikes to a higher standard themselves, the North West Greenways Network got on board to help fund Velotech Training (Cycle Recycle Newry) along with provision of a Tool Station.”

Monica believes there is still a lot to be done in terms of creating a safe cycle network in Derry.

“We do have a number of cycling/shared paths, but they are not all interlinked,” said Monica.

“Derry definitely needs more improved infrastructure for cyclists. We have a lot to catch up on. During the lockdown was the perfect opportunity.

“There was only one pop-up cycle path done. I think it was a lost opportunity as a lot of people in Derry want to get on their bikes, and commute to their destination. However, people are restricted as many cycle routes do not link up to the city, shops, schools, colleges, or their place of work. There just aren’t enough traffic free routes to make people feel confident enough about cycling to their destination.”

Monica believes that reducing fuel and energy consumption is more vital now than ever.

“For society it is really important,” she said.

“It is time that we have to think about the environment, and we need to start making changes. Through my training as an instructor, I was able to provide for total beginners or people who haven’t been on a bike for a long time. Many people can’t afford new bikes, so by fixing bikes saved from landfill, we were able to make them affordable.

“People can book one hour slots on a Friday at the Zero Waste Hub and learn the basic workings of a bike. The joy for me is sharing the skills that I have developed and helping others to begin or return to cycling. I love meeting different people everyday, and seeing the difference our project is making.”

If you would like to donate a bike, please drop this off at the back of the Recycling Centre at the Pennyburn industrial estate. For further information follow www.facebook.com/LifecyclesNI. Life Cycles is located at the Zero Waste Hub, 84 Spencer Road.