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The Freewheel Project Advocates for Community Cyclists

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Frankie Withey is still trying to break-in his Mongoose.

An avid cyclist, Withey uses every chance he can to ride.

The 44-year-old lives in Dignity Village, Gainesville’s tent city. He rides his Mongoose mountain bike to pick up trash around the community, run errands and deliver messages to other residents around the camp.

“It’s therapeutic because I have to get my cardiovascular up. It also gives me something to do. It allows me to clear my mind,” he said. “I just jump on my bike and ride.”

But when Withey’s bike breaks down, he has a limited supply of tools to use. 

That’s where The Freelwheel Project comes in.

Artists Steven Speir and Cesar Antonio Evans paint the mural that is located in the back of The Freewheel Project on Sunday afternoon. They have dedicated about 50 hours to the mural by providing free labor to the organization.
Artists Steven Speir and Cesar Antonio Evans paint the mural that is located in the back of The Freewheel Project on a weekend afternoon. They have dedicated about 50 hours to the mural by providing free labor to the organization. Maria Valencia / WUFT News

The Freewheel Project, located at 618 S. Main St. in Gainesville, will be a low-cost education-based bike shop staffed with a mechanic and an intern. Members will have access to a tool library, a bike library and a crit-cross style track (a lap course with a rough surface) that snakes through the 2.7-acre lot behind the building.

Withey said he would like to be a part of The Freewheel Project’s cycling group, but can’t afford to pay for it. The project would be a great resource for him and the other residents of Dignity Village who rely on bikes as their main mode of transportation.

The project’s vice president, Patrick Dodds, said his previous experience with the homeless community allowed him to see how important a bicycle can be for a homeless person in their day-to-day life.

With The Freewheel Project, Dodds said he envisions a space where the underprivileged community can come in and feel comfortable.

He wants them to feel like they have a space of their own and have their bike worked on while engaging with other people in the community.

This approach is what attracted Ethan Hudgins, a 20-year-old UF student, to volunteer with the project.

“The fact that they’ll be a community center will add another outlet for people to get help that they need,” Hudgins said. “You don’t think about it much because it’s not generally a huge issue for students.”

Hudgins said he thinks the project will add the missing piece to help get a variety of different modes of transportation on the ground. This would make the community more inclusive for people who can’t drive while increasing cycling advocacy and education.

The project is not solely directed at the underprivileged community, but anyone interested in cycling.

“If you ride a bike, we want to be supportive of that,” said Ryan Aulton, executive director of the project.

The project also has a focus on empowering women in competitive cycling due to the vast difference between women’s and men’s presence in the sport at the local and professional level, according to Jamie Aulton, the project’s president.

Ryan Aulton said the project has been well-received in the community even though the bike shop is not set to open until August.

In addition to volunteers, the organization has received donated bicycle equipment, discounted tractor rentals and other building materials from community members, organizations and businesses.

Sarah Goff, co-founder of The Repurpose Project, a nonprofit organization that salvages discarded items intended for reuse, said it donated about 4,000 bricks to The Freewheel Project. The bricks will be used to pave the bike track.

“A thing I really like about them is the impact of the environment from biking, like the reduction of carbon dioxide,” she said. “That’s our whole thing, helping the planet, and what they’re doing is also helping the planet in the respect of having more bikes and fewer cars.”

Although Withey can’t afford to pay for membership, there are other ways that the project can give access to those who don’t have the means to join.

Dodds said the project will have free service days on the weekends, either Saturday or Sunday, where members of the underprivileged community can come in to learn how to change a flat tire or make some minor corrections that would help them on a day-to-day basis.

In addition to the free service days, he said the organization plans on visiting GRACE Marketplace to engage and educate individuals on the available services to make them aware and involved as much as possible.

As a advocate of Dignity Village, Withey thinks the project would really benefit other riders in the community, especially those who are heavily reliant on their bicycles to go to work.

“I feel like it would be a great source for the cyclists here (at Dignity Village),” he said.

About Maria Valencia

Maria is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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