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Opening the door to community bicycle maintenance in Whitehorse

Chainwhip sets up shop downtown near waterfront trail

Jesse Weymen uses a truing stand to straighten up an old bike wheel on a hot summer afternoon in Whitehorse. He’s working out of a trailer parked next to the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (KDCC). Kai Bruce also squeezes in. He’s doing some work on a bicycle frame.

Weymen and Bruce, alongside Ashwin Freyne are the founding members of Chainwhip, a new community bicycle repair and maintenance space in the Yukon’s capital.

Chainwhip is a place where people can access tools and parts to fix up their bikes, as well as do routine maintenance. You do have to pay for any parts used and Chainwhip graciously accepts donations to help keep the place running.

“We operate more as a learning space and a tool library,” Weymen told the News. “When someone shows up at the shop, they can expect to not necessarily have someone doing the work for them, that’s not what we’re about. It’s more like learning together. We provide the tools so they can learn to fix their own bikes.”

First opened near the beginning of June, the completely volunteer-run initiative is geared towards commuter bikes. As high-end bikes, like mountain bikes, need special tools for their suspension, they can’t get a full tune-up at Chainwhip.

Weymen feels Chainwhip fills a gap for smaller repairs. He said there can be wait times to get into other shops that are busy with bigger jobs.

“We’re mostly looking to be doing basic repair jobs that will get people’s bikes back up and running quickly,” said Weymen. “The bike space is really meant to be a community-led initiative.”

Bruce credits Freyne with coming up with the idea after using similar spaces in other cities across Canada. It all started about two years ago when the group got some grants and acquired equipment.

“We basically had an entire bike shop’s worth of equipment and tools sitting in a garage and in people’s basements but we had lacked a space,” said Bruce.

When the search for indoor spaces to operate out of turned up few results, the three purchased a trailer from a friend who used to run a different bike shop.

“Last year, we kind of had a space that was going to work out as an interim solution, but then it fell apart,” said Bruce.

“Most of the work we will be doing for the community and with the community is going to take place during snow-free months anyway, so the trailer kind of meets our needs for now,” said Weymen.

Once the trailer was bought, the search for a location to park it was on. That was no easy task.

“Real estate here is very difficult to come by. Even to find a place to put this trailer was next to impossible,” said Bruce.

The trio’s luck would change when they reached out to the KDCC to ask about setting up shop near the cultural centre.

“They were super down in backing the project,” said Bruce.

Bruce said they have signed a memorandum of understanding with the KDCC. The location is also next to the waterfront trail, which makes it easily accessible to bikers. Bruce feels Whitehorse is a car-dominated city, and it is important to encourage active transportation.

“I think there’s a major deficit in support from the community for sustainable transport,” said Bruce. “This is a car-based city, and it’s kind of hard to shift that paradigm… we’re empowering the people who do ride their bikes already and people who may want to but are a little afraid.”

Weymen echoes that sentiment. Described as a “dreamer” by Bruce, he has some ideas to get more residents of Whitehorse on bikes.

“We don’t have any protected bike lanes,” said Weymen. “The Millennium trail is a fantastic bike route. However, it’s not a bike-designated path, so there’s intermingling of pedestrians with bike traffic. There’s space in that area. One thing people have talked about is to tear up the old trolley tracks and have a dedicated bike lane as well as a dedicated walking one like so many other cities do on their waterfronts.”

Both avid bikers, Bruce and Weymen feel cycling is a great way to keep your body and the planet healthy.

“It’s liberating. It’s empowering,” said Bruce. “It makes you feel good and healthy but in terms of the practical sense, I try to commute on my bike as much as possible. As people living in the North, we have a greater carbon footprint than anyone else on the planet, so it makes me feel good in that sense.”

Beyond health benefits, Weymen feels biking teaches independence.

“I’m from Toronto originally, and it was definitely a vehicle for freedom growing up in the city,” said Weymen. “Just being able to bike to school helped me build independent life skills.”

Right now, the trailer is without power. Chainwhip relies on long Yukon days to light up the space. There are plans to potentially install a solar panel which would change that. It would also allow for power tools like an air compressor.

This year, Chainwhip hopes to stay open until about October. They will close when the snow flies. Weymen, Bruce, and Freyne are still hopeful that they can find a more permanent indoor location for the future.

“We’re hoping to run this season as kind of like our pilot project. We’re starting small with just a few nights a week, depending on when volunteers are available,” said Weymen. “If we can eventually find a space to operate out of year-round, that would be amazing,”

If you’d like to know more about Chainwhip or if you’re interested in volunteering, you can connect via Instagram @chainwhipbikes.

Dylan MacNeil is a freelance writer based in Whitehorse.