The Ecologist Top Ten: recycled bike enterprises

If you're planning a new year health kick there's no point buying an expensive new bike - reconditioned or recycled cycles are the environmentally friendly way to lose those Christmas pounds

It has never been easier to take part in the sustainable transport revolution sweeping Britain, with bikes an increasingly popular choice for those in urban centres as well as rural parts. What with the Government’s ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme, bike-hire facilities, bike festivals and free bike maintenance services, it’s hard to ignore this growing cycling phenomenon.

It’s all about making the switch from four wheels to two. Cycling creates no air pollution and causes less congestion on the roads, while its health advantages are apparent for a nation in the grip of a growing obesity epidemic. Not only can individual riders keep fit and fight the flab, but by ditching the motor can also contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment for everyone. As well as being the more sustainable option it's also far cheaper than running a car.

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While such cycling trends point the way towards lowering carbon emissions and creating a more environmentally friendly society, however, the bike boom has also resulted in a rise in unwanted bicycles. The old, broken or simply outdated ones often end up in landfill. And yet bikes are made from many recyclable materials, such as aluminium and rubber, making them valuable asset.

This is where recycled bike enterprises come in. There are several across the UK, all specialising in transforming broken old bone-rattlers into functioning machines. Many also offer repair services, provide helpful courses on how to maintain your bike, as well as doing something a bit extra for the community, such as give bike training to young offenders. Some companies, such as Racer Rosa, make bikes using a combination of new, new old stock, used and vintage parts.

So if you have an unwanted bike or a broken one that has been confined to a lonely basement, instead of throwing it out take it down the recycling route for a magical makeover and a new home. For those looking to invest in a new bike, buying reconditioned costs a fraction of the price, and come with a wealth of history etched into their various recycled parts. Here are 10 of the best recycled bike enterprises to get you started.

ReCycling, Elephant & Castle, London

One of London’s largest bike reconditioning enterprises, ReCycling has been operating successfully for more than 10 years. Its large collection of bikes is made up primarily of abandoned bikes, bikes from local authority waste sites and the police. Some are from donations and part-exchanges, of which a payment is rewarded to those who bring in their old bikes. Ninety-five per cent of all bikes collected are reused and reconditioned into newly functioning models for sale. You can exchange a bike for another model as many times as you want within the exchange period, until you find the perfect bike for you. ReCycling is also heavily involved with local community projects and often donates its bicycles to these causes.

Re~Cycle, Colchester

This charity provides bicycle aid to various communities in Africa. It ships donated secondhand bikes, parts, tools and bike manuals to Africa, where they are distributed to local communities and health workers in need of basic transport. These bikes greatly help the lives of those living in rural area where there is no public transport. Re~Cycle also teaches bike repair and maintenance skills to the bikes' new owners in Africa, as well as offering new skills and jobs to youth offenders and those on probation in the UK.

The Bristol Bike Project, Bristol

This volunteer-run community project takes unwanted bikes from the public and fixes them up to donate to underprivileged and marginalised groups in Bristol, with an emphasis on people with mental health problems, the homeless, refugees and asylum-seekers, and people recovering from substance-abuse. Its motto - 'Helping people to help themselves' - is one that encourages skills-sharing, and it believes in teaching people how to maintain and repair their own bicycles. The Bristol Bike Project sells some of its bikes to raise funds to support its work.

Recyke y’Byke, Newcastle

This charity community project reclaims old donated bikes and bike parts and refurbishes them for resale. Proceeds go towards the upkeep of the charity, as well as funding the transport of bikes to international aid charities, such as for Re~Cycle in Africa (see above) and to Afghanistan and Romania. It offers a range of bicycle training courses and workshops, from bike maintenance to wheel-building, as well as offering a tool-hire service for home repairs.

Oxford Cycle Workshop, Oxford

The chief aim of this community worker’s cooperative is to encourage like-minded people to come together to spread the word about cycling and bike recycling. It offers a wide range of recycled bikes and bike parts for sale, sourced from people’s donations. It also offers bike training courses, organises bike-related events and festivals, provides bike repair and maintenance services, and offers vocational qualifications to young people.

The Bike Station, Edinburgh

Supported by local community organisations and local government authorities, this charity reconditions donated bikes, those from recycling centres and others found abandoned around Edinburgh into new models for sale. It also offers a range of bicycle training courses to individuals and organisations, ranging from how to safely commute to work to how to repair your bike.

Coventry Recycled Cycles, Coventry

This not-for-profit organisation gives out free recycled bikes to those who can't afford them and affordable bikes to everyone else. It relies mainly on donations to keep itself going, and accepts all unwanted bicycles and bike parts from the public, before servicing and repairing them for future use. It also offers a mobile bike repair service, making home visits for a personal bike consultation, as well as running various courses and workshops on bike maintenance.

Back-2-Bikes, Stafford

Initially funded by the National Lottery, Back-2-Bikes accepts all donated secondhand or unwanted bikes and reconditions them for resale. It also sells recycled bike parts, offers a bike repair service and various volunteer and work-placement positions. Made up of a team of avid cyclists, it encourages the public to get back to bike basics.

Opportunities Without Limits (OWL), Cambridge

OWL is a social enterprise that aims to help the Cambridge community, especially adults with learning difficulties and disabilities. OWL Bikes is one of its social projects in which donated bikes are fully refurbished for sale. It also sells bike accessories and recycled parts, as well as offering bike repair services to the public. Its Bike Shed is a place where adults with learning difficulties and disabilities are given a chance to learn new bike repair and maintenance skills, as well as to get involved with vocational work and paid employment before returning to the world of work.

Re-cycle, Leeds

Now in its 22nd year, this independent bicycle shop has successfully kept itself going by being at the forefront of the cycling community in Leeds. It sells reconditioned bikes and parts, and has a walk-in bicycle repair shop that accepts all bicycle-related jobs and ailments.

Vi Nguyen is a freelance journalist

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