By: Mariel Carbone
May 4, 2017
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV)—Cycling can be a sport. Or, a leisure activity.
But, for some, it’s a way of life.
"We'd love to help you. I’ve got a bunch of bikes sitting here,” said Scot Benton, talking to a prospective customer on the phone.
Benton owns Bicycle House, a repair shop located in a warehouse off FAMU Way. Riders can stop in and get a tired patched up, a chain fixed, the rim and spokes aligned. Or, receive a fixed up bike from the shop.
“I founded Bicycle House to be a place to empower people who are on the edge financially, to be able to come and be proud that they’re making ends meet by riding a bicycle,” said Benton. “We make things more affordable. Our primary focus is on people who need bikes as transportation.”
Bicycling has always been part of life for Scot Benton.
As a kid, he’d ride his bike back and forth from home to the grocery store, picking up butter or milk for his family. He recalled feeling proud to ride a bike, feeling like he was saving his family money.
As he got older, it became sport. Benton rode professionally, racing and traveling across the country.
But, things changed.
"When you almost die right in the middle of your life, you wake up and you’re sort of like...,” said Benton.
Two decades ago Benton was in an accident. Standing alongside a road in Boston, he was hit by a car. An innocent bystander. He was left unconscious for about eight weeks, and suffered a serious brain injury, requiring counseling to recover.
"Returning from that definitely gave me a different perspective on life. I'd say it changed me,” he said.
The accident caused him to move back to Tallahassee with his parents. And with some encouragement from his father, his life took a new path.
“My dad said, ‘You need to get out of the house and do something with your life,’” he said.
And so in 2011, Bicycle House was born.
“I have always ridden bicycles, I’ve always used bicycles as transportation so I just made sort of an agreement with my father that I’d always keep a place open full time,” said Benton.
The shop combines his passion for cycling, with a desire to give back to the community- one that helped shape him as a child and supported him through his accident.
"I think I’m more a product of this community than I realize. And I realize it more and more every day,” said Benton.
More than 600 bikes fill the warehouse, all donated. A majority of the bikes were donated by the Florida State University Police Department, which formerly auctioned off the abandoned bikes from campus. Plus, the community at large donates bikes, too. Not all the bikes are totally operational and some are beyond repair. But, they all have something that can be used or re-purposed for another bike.
Dozens of volunteers work in the shop, making the repairs. Many are students from the local universities.
“Transportation is something that every single human needs, people have to get around,” said Samuel Rose, who has been volunteering at the shop for years.
Rose said there isn’t one particular interaction that has stuck out to him the most while volunteering, but more of a chain of events, that makes the work worth it.
“When we see the same person coming in and making progress with the bike that we built for them, or kept on the road for them, and they’re able to go to work and they’re able to come in and keep their bike running,” said Rose.
The shop is run strictly on a donation basis. After repairs are made, bikers are given a suggested cost. But, they can pay as little, or as much as they want or can afford.
“If you want to get a bike from us you sign up, you get an appointment to come in and we would work with you. You can work as much as you wanted, you cannot work at all,” said Benton. “We’re basically going to provide you with some transportation and when we get done you will donate as much as you have or are willing to donate. So it’s all done sort of like at church, when the basket is passed around and you put in as much as you feel you should.”
It’s a way to ease the burden for riders who enter the shop, like Melvin Gilliam.
“This is helpful. It’s really helpful,” said Gilliam, a longtime resident of Tallahassee who uses his bike as his mode of transportation. “Instead of throwing away that whole bike, they fix it up like a new car, a new bike, a mechanic. It’s good to have it. They fix it for free and they deserve a donation.”
But, the shop isn’t just about fixing bikes for people in need. It’s also about fixing the mindset behind riding a bike.
"A communication of instilling self confidence in people who ride their bicycles in any format. That they could do it,” said Benton
Bridging the gap between need and stigma.
“I feel like a lot more people who are at that lower income level would feel self-confident enough to ride a bicycle if they knew that the other people in the community who ride care about them and are concerned about them being able to get to work on a bicycle,” said Benton. “I founded Bicycle house to find a way for us all to come together and sort of say to the people who have to cycle to work, ‘This is an accepted mode of transportation. You see, this is what we do.’”
This message, plus, the donation basis of ‘get from one person, give to another person’ atmosphere of the shop, creates a unique community inside the doors of the warehouse.
“Especially building a community of diverse people. There’s not any other community that incorporates that many different kinds of people,” said Rose.
A community that even draws from the outside.
“Last year, we had 530 people stay with us,” said Benton.
The doors are open for bicycle tourists to stop, rest and recharge. This year alone, more than 150 tourists have stopped to stay the night. And, last month international cyclists making a cross country ride through the US, stopped to spend the night. It’s just another way to provide for others.
“We’re a community and that’s what we’re all about here,” said Benton.
Bicycle House is open Monday through Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.bicyclehouse.org.