Toronto

Toronto's abandoned bikes getting fixed up for 2nd life

Bent, broken, and rusting, you see bikes abandoned everywhere in Toronto. Now, one community group is getting them back on the road with a little help from a west end cafe.

City crews have removed 544 broken bikes from ring-and-posts, but some just need a little love

This old steel Peugeot was abandoned to die a slow death from corrosion. Now mechanics at Fix Coffee + Bikes are giving it a second chance at life, while CultureLink is working on finding a deserving owner. (John Rieti/CBC)

You've seen them. Bent. Broken. Clinging to rusting U-locks while being stripped of their parts — and dignity.

They're Toronto's abandoned bicycles.

And now, dozens of them are being brought back from the dead.

"Some of them look terrible ... but some of them look like they still have a lot of life left in them and just need a bit of love," Fred Sztabinski told CBC Toronto.

Fred Sztabinski shows off the first bike his shop has repaired for CultureLink. (John Rieti/CBC)

Sztabinski owns Fix Coffee + Bikes, a cafe and bike repair shop in Toronto's west end that's partnering with a local charity, CultureLink, to restore 25 bicycles this winter. Sztabinski says every bike will get a full tune-up, while broken parts will be replaced before they're given away in the spring.

The mangled bikes were plucked from a giant pile the city's been keeping at a facility in Leslieville. Officials say 544 bikes have been removed from posts this year in an effort to declutter bike parking spots, only after their owners have been notified.

Sztabinski and his mechanics have already restored one bike, a light blue commuter complete with a rack and fenders. This week, work has begun on repairing a vintage Peugeot cruiser, which will even get a fresh polish to show off its great paint job. The goal: making its new owner proud.

"Oh that's sweet, that is a classic frame, for sure," said CultureLink's Kristin Schwartz, laying eyes on the bike for the first time.

Schwartz says the bike will either go to a newcomer to Toronto, or a high school student in need of a way to get around. 

While the refurbished bikes are road-ready, they're often still rusted from the months they spent exposed to the elements. (John Rieti/CBC)

Partnering with the city and Fix is a first for the charity, she says, but CultureLink's bike host program is already a proven success. That effort has local cyclists pairing up with newcomers to show them around the community while recommending the safest routes. 

"You see so much more on a bike," Schwartz said.

"You can see the library, you can see the community centre, you can see a school you didn't know was there."

More groups partnering with city on bike restoration efforts

In addition to Fix and CultureLink's partnership, there are five other groups working with city to refurbish abandoned bikes, including Bike Pirates, Scarborough Cycles and Bikeworks at Brickworks. 

Sztabinski encourages other organizations to get on board, estimating he only took a quarter of the bikes that were salvageable. 

Meanwhile, anyone who spots an abandoned bike can call 311 to provide details.

About the Author

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.

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