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Inside the BIXI bike warehouse in Toronto

Posted by Jennifer Tse / August 26, 2011

BIXI Bike Warehouse TorontoThe addition of the BIXI bike-sharing program to our streets has changed Toronto cycling in the short time since its launch. Even before BIXI was a part of Toronto, there was an independent cycling culture defined by sustainability and community, all thanks to the fierce loyalty of commuters to their two-wheeled steeds. BIXI has since become a symbol for a more bike-friendly city, and it's not surprising that the back end of the program follows the same grassroots, people-oriented and eco-friendly values.

There's BIXI Toronto on the front end — the bikes themselves, their stations, and everything visible by users on the street or visitors to BIXI's website. But the repairs warehouse that actually services the bikes is tucked away in a building north of Eglinton called the Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) training centre, a 7300 square foot facility employing 320 people. Operating under a mandate of community and economic development, the LEF helps anyone in the GTA gain access to employment services, warehouse and logistics skills training, and youth programs.

BIXI Toronto bike warehouseI meet with BIXI mechanic Darren Duke, who has a long history in bike maintenance and whose family owns Duke's Cycle on Queen Street. At the LEF, Darren works as the repair operations manager and instructor for the Bike Assembly and Maintenance (BAM) program. The program, backed by the Bike Trade Association of Canada, will be just one year old in September, and mostly receives students from social services. "Everyone who wants to become a BIXI mechanic must pass my course," says Darren, who proudly adds that his bicycle assembly and maintenance programs have a high passing grade of 80 per cent.

Darren takes me into the warehouse, a large room crammed bikes in need of repair. "We have people running around the city in a truck with a trailer, and they bring the bikes here," he says. "We call them 'bike warriors.'"

BIXI Bike mechanic TorontoHe explains that bike warriors go to 80 BIXI docking stations in a day, balancing out stations by moving bikes between them. Inspections are done three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with roughly 45 bikes brought back to the warehouse each week for repairs. Two full-time mechanics repair between six to eight bikes a day. Extra mechanics-in-training and assistants are also on hand to get through the daily flow of bike repairs.

At the stations, Darren says, basic checks are done starting with the brakes, the front dynamo which acts as the generator for the lights, and the bell. If there is more complicated work to be done, such as graffiti removal or badly damaged parts, the bikes are brought back to the LEF.

BIXI bikes TorontoHe then proceeds to demonstrate the repair process, putting a damaged BIXI on a stand. He cleans the chain with a biodegradable solution and gets to work with myriad tools from a well-stocked workbench. All of the cleaning fluids and lubricants used on the bikes are eco-friendly to the best of his ability, explains Darren.

BIXI bikes TorontoFinally, he shows me a warehouse secret — a couple of blue BIXI bikes with the City of Toronto logo. "These were used as the pilot bikes when the BIXI program was first pitched to the city," he says. Blue was the original colour for the Toronto BiIXI before it was finally decided that black would be more cohesive with the advertising on the bikes.

As I leave the LEF, I realize that Darren is just one of a very large, important, but obscure group of people--thousands of Torontonians whose hard work is qualified by how well they themselves disappear into the background of our daily lives. But for these people, I guess keeping all of Toronto running is just another day on the job.

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K. / August 26, 2011 at 09:09 am
Would be curious to know if the Bixi program pays for itself.
Some Guy / August 26, 2011 at 09:18 am
I like the blue bikes better.
?? / August 26, 2011 at 09:21 am
Since when does Dave Foley work for Dukes Bikes?
Christien / August 26, 2011 at 09:34 am
As an avid Bixi user, this was great to get a sneak peak at the back end of the Bixi operations
ROB replying to a comment from K. / August 26, 2011 at 09:41 am
I'm curious about that but it's probably too early to make that call.
Jer / August 26, 2011 at 10:09 am
Bixi system is a great idea. I can't wait until it rolls out more. I bought a subscription to support the system. What I would like to see is better communication from Bixi head office about station closures/relocations and better map updates. I feel like the people working for Bixi head office are disconnected from Toronto. I sent in a map update request over a week ago and they never changed it (Yonge/Dundas station shows on the wrong side of the street on the map and a bit more north than it actually is). I am pretty sure they do all that kind of work out of Montreal.
lowrez / August 26, 2011 at 10:33 am
Bring back the blue bikes! It's the perfect shade of blue and it matches Toronto's flag.
Matt replying to a comment from K. / August 26, 2011 at 10:40 am
I would imagine it will take a few years for the Toronto division to recoup initial start up costs and break even. Obviously the long term plan is for the service to make money, but until a critical mass is reached, they'll likely be operating in the red. Initial reports suggest they are ahead of projections so far in terms of members and usage, so I would speculate they're in a good place. It will be interesting to see how the business evolves over the next few years.
MrPotato / August 26, 2011 at 11:08 am
Bixi sucks Dixi!
Dilla replying to a comment from MrPotato / August 26, 2011 at 11:25 am
^ NO, U
Aaron / August 26, 2011 at 05:44 pm
Is this where they scrape off the asscrust after the naked bike ride?
wilp / August 26, 2011 at 10:51 pm
Bring back the blue bikes.......they look GREAT and add a bit of colour to toronto's streets.
ife / August 26, 2011 at 11:41 pm
They should switch between blue and black for when they dis- and re-assemble the bikes between seasons :-)
jess / August 27, 2011 at 08:26 am
The blue ones were the initial prototypes...i agree they should put them on the streets
Gary in Vancouver / August 27, 2011 at 03:12 pm
The blue bikes look better to me too, but I would have thought that you guys in the Centre of the Known Universe would have wanted a slightly darker shade to match the Leafs jerseys. After all, Bixi is a Winner and the Leafs are . . . oh wait, OK. I get it now.
Dan replying to a comment from K. / September 17, 2011 at 07:16 am
Most probably it does if credit union people have their nose in it, but even if it does not - they can afford it. Seemingly (ads on the bikes), Telus and Desjardins (the largest association of credit unions in North America) sponsor it. So those bikes could have been bedazzled with gems and semi-precious stones of sorts, and it'd be still worth it, as a good marketing stunt.
Adam / September 4, 2012 at 04:26 am
Original content seems to be rare nowadays. Thanks to you and your smart take on this topic, I have original and interesting content to read.

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