Right at the heart of their city’s center, Toronto’s self-confessed Bike Pirates tinker, teach, collect, and cook behind the DIY bike shop’s skull and crossbones logo. Blessed with a healthy autonomous and anarchist streak, they act on the streets, for the streets. Their goal and mission: to turn found or donated battered bikes and parts into roadworthy bicycles. Thanks to their cheap and cheerful pricing policy, these “new” vehicles are affordable for anyone on a budget. Driven by environmental concerns as well as a love of two-wheeled mobility, the Bike Pirates crew aims to get people moving, wants to bring like-minded souls together, and tries to promote zero-emission transport. Local Canadians love the approach and often drop by to browse the two-wheeled goods or get their hands dirty. In addition, open classes invite anyone who wants to maintain their own bicycle to learn how to get the ball – and bike – rolling. Run on a donations-only basis, patrons are welcome to give what they want or simply pay in kind.

Bells on Door 2010, photo: flickr, Commodore Gandalf Cunningham,
Bells on Door 2010, photo: flickr, Commodore Gandalf Cunningham, CC BY 2.0

A true team effort, this particular pirate scheme thrives on its active volunteers. Anyone can get involved and contribute to the project by, for example, equipping local social networks with bikes or supporting organizations with some extra mobility. Creative examples include tours of Toronto’s urban gardens on the workshop’s restored “loot and booty.”

Meals on wheels
To keep up the collective spirit and strength, all Bike Pirates helpers and supporters are supplied with tasty organic morsels. Part of the project’s holistic philosophy, these meals have become a firm favorite and fixture of the non-profit (work)shop set-up. Every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, the project’s kitchen dishes out generous portions of freshly prepared delights.

Inside the workshop, photo: Geoffrey Bercarich
Inside the workshop, photo: Geoffrey Bercarich

Everyone is a pirate
At the same time, no one is ostracized for being different. Special classes for women and transsexuals, for example – the Bike Pirates’ Women & Trans Sundays – explicitly invite people to come along and just be themselves, free from any racism, hostility, or social exclusion. Both workshop and platform for exchange, the scheme supports the premise that “providing shop hours specifically for women and trans folks to learn from each other is an important way of making Bike Pirates a safer space for a broader range of people.“ A premise and declaration of empathy that meets with a great response from the community.

Bike Pirates, photo: flickr,
Bike Pirates, photo: flickr, Rebecca W, CC BY-SA 2.0

Toronto speeds ahead
Originally dreamt up by bike punks and activists, the buccaneering spirit has already spread to a larger audience. Toronto’s bike scene is thriving and many cities could benefit from an injection of this (slightly anarchic) approach. An approach that is also embraced by Toronto’s government: In 2008, Bike Pirates received the Bicycle Friendly Business Award, an accolade awarded to ideas and organizations that promote and integrate bike culture in Toronto – and a great rebuttal to doubting critics who still think that anarchy can only create chaos.

Text: Agi Habryka
Header image: samuelschalch/ photocase.com