Free Ride, in its current form, started on Stoner Way in Wilkinsburg in 2001 in a corner of the Mr Roboto Project, the punk rock collective and venue, now located in Garfield.
Several members of this community got the shop off the ground by staffing regular hours and offering to help people fix and tune up their bikes for free. Eventually, the shop combined forces with the Big Idea Bookshop, an anarchist book store now located in Bloomfield. Together, they opened up a storefront adjacent to the Mr Roboto Project’s new location on the corner of Wilkinsburg’s Wood St and South Ave.
Having a storefront allowed Free Ride to really take off. Word got out that there was this community resource and it became more and more popular. Bike donations increased, which created the need for a program to strip and store parts or get the bikes rolling again. Volunteers began coming in droves, looking for ways to plug in and continue to expand the shop. About this time, the most involved volunteers started the Collective Council as a way to more formally manage programs, tools, volunteers, and space. It became necessary to begin formalizing the organization, so the Collective Council partnered with BikePGH (who had 501(c)(3) status) to function as a fiscal sponsor so that Free Ride could accept donations.
Eventually, the shop outgrew the storefront, and secured an even larger space inside the eastern end of the Construction Junction warehouse. While not ideal as it lacked a dedicated entrance, this allowed the shop to grow even bigger, gain more volunteers and expand its footprint. By 2007, the shop was an active hub open roughly 4-5 days per week, with classes, Earn-a-bike programs, and a new Women and Non-Binary Open Shop night. The same year, Free Ride hosted the National Bike Conference, attracting bike coops and projects from around North America to Pittsburgh. In 2001, Free Ride obtained its own 501(c)(3) status and started operating on its own.
Free Ride continues to operate within the Construction Junction building. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic Free Ride’s operations slowed down, but we are slowly ramping up our efforts as we gain back community engagement. The shop is continuing to look for ways to engage with the greater Pittsburgh community by attending outreach events, collaborating with BikePGH, finding ways to recycle and reuse materials more effectively, and help get bikes to those who can’t afford one.