The builders behind Ain Bicycle have opened a new space in the heart Darb 1718 that is open to anyone who loves bicycles and want to exchange ideas, advice, or even learn, on site, how to fix their bike.
What if I were to tell you that there is a way to beat the za7ma, help the environment, and improve one’s health and fitness? No we're not talking about a futuristic Segway rip off, but rather the historically reliable bicycle. For a majority of Egyptians, the thought of cycling is misconceived as a suicide wish, and yet slowly a younger generation is awakening to its practicality, becoming part of a movement that dares to challenges the state to create adequate infrastructure and safety regulations for the new wave of responsible commuters. In a massive Egyptian population, it becomes extremely difficult to find the passionate few currently fueling the movement, but looking to solve the problem is none other than the beloved Ain Bicycle, who have expanded beyond assembling customisable bikes, and have launched a new open space and concept in the heart of Darb 1718 that aims to be the hub of for the cycling movement to exchange ideas, organise rides and provide access to tools and components to fix up or maintain your precious two-wheel mechanical marvel.
Just to the left of the emblazoned graffitied skull that landmarks the heart of the Darb 1718's cultural community center of skilful artisans is the newly opened, and likely first of its kind, community space and workshop for passionate cyclists. Hoping to provide the perfect hub for cyclists is Karim Abdullah and Dirk Wanrooij of Ain Bicycles. I had the fortune of meeting these partners back in 2014, when they just began operations, selling and assembling customisable bikes in Egypt. At the time they shared with me their vision of opening this space, however the journey to do so came with a variety of obstacles and sacrifices. "Every stage of building this place had obstacles. Just finding this place, agreeing on what we wanted it to be, what it will look like... It was months of fighting with each other, renovators, and electricians. It was so much work that we actually had to stop making and selling bikes for a couple of months," explains Wanrooij.
Opening any space is a daunting and nerve-wracking task that only becomes heightened when the company's source of income comes to a grinding halt. "Operations actually stopped back in April. It was after we participated at the MADA marketplace, which was a huge success. We got like sixteen orders and people were excited that they could customise their bikes. The next morning, we went shopping for parts and for some odd reason nothing was available in the market because of problems between the government and importers. This isn’t only a problem for us, but for even the big suppliers. We often buy parts from them, but at the time all of their products were stuck in customs," a frustrated Abdullah describes.
Exacerbating the importing issue is the recent presidential decree to levee further drastic tariffs on imports, which today remains shrouded in mystery. "So far they haven’t decided whether the increase on imports will affect components, parts or complete bicycles. If the increase is placed on components and complete bicycles, then we will have to look into manufacturing what we need locally. However, if it is applied to only assembled bikes, then it may benefit us, because we have been doing this for three years and have acquired a lot of knowledge in where to buy components and which components work best with each other. Other companies just ship in a bunch of containers filled with assembled bikes and accessories, but haven’t gone through the exercise of learning about dimensions and individual components. Since we know how to assemble all the components from scratch, I think this decision may actually give us a head start."The ambitious goal of opening a new concept while simultaneously dealing with increasing importing issues, resulted in operations being halted for over half a year, and their vision seemed out of reach until Ain Bicycle decided to launch a Indiegogo campaign to help them open the space. According to Abdullah, "We didn’t have the funds, so we had to run a crowd funding campaign. This place was made possible thanks to the donations of people who believed in what we wanted to do and believed in us. They trusted us with their money which also boosted our confidence that there are people out there that support and share our vision."Thanks to the support of the growing movement, Ain Bicycle was able to actualise their dream, and last weekend launched the opening of their community workshop space filled with all the tools and components for anyone to fix their bicycles or share their ideas. "We want it to be a hub where information is exchanged and a place where we can share our passion for cycling. Where passionate cyclists can talk about things like, 'How we can improve the infrastructure for cycling in Cairo?', or having groups come in from anywhere to lead talks or open discussions on the benefits of cycling in cities. A place where people can organise longer tours and even critical mass rides. In the end, the space isn’t exclusive to cyclists, but anyone who loves or wants to learn more about cycling," Abdullah imparts passionately.
Beyond it being open to all, both men understand that the success of the space hinges on its acceptance by other cyclist groups, but more importantly their participation and contributions. According to Abdullah, "If you want to volunteer as a bicycle mechanic then he can come in and teach people how to repair bicycles. We want to be able to have anyone come in and find someone in the space who can teach them how to use the tools to fix any problem they have with their bikes." Of course those who help out with the space will also be granted access to some pretty awesome perks as Abdullah adds that "Some of the things we can offer to our volunteers is our access to parts at wholesale prices from abroad. As far as we are concerned, if you join us as a volunteer mechanic the place is yours, meaning you can use all our tools, workplace and get the same access to suppliers as we do."With the space open, a recent massive inventory shipment received, and a plan for local manufacturing if shipping fails in the long term, Ain Bicycle is positioned well for the foreseeable future, although their perseverance isn’t fuelled by a desire for profits, but a dream of a safer, smarter, city-wide accepted cycling society. "The ultimate goal is to have an influence on the flow of traffic. This will become easier to achieve if bikes begin to be manufactured locally. The only way you will be able to affect traffic is by making a bike that the majority of the country can afford," logically and ambitiously remarks Wanrooij. Sharing the same vision Abdullah adds, "One of our long term goals is to introduce a bike that is the most affordable mode of transportation, at least within your neighbourhood. We feel that we can achieve building a bike for around 500 pounds and we both believe once the bicycle is set at an accessible price everyone will want to start riding bikes, which is more important to us than profits."In the meantime, the immediate goal is to have weekly activities taking place in their new space. On February 12th, they will be hosting a screening of Bike Vs Cars, a documentary about cyclists tackling governments to build cyclist friendly infrastructure, and will have a discussion after the movie of how examples in the film can be applied in Cairo. There’s power in numbers and hopefully with the public interest growing this space will become the hub for all cyclists to gather, organise, and ultimately change Cairo's cityscape to include this tried, tested, and true mode of transportation.
Although it is always best to call ahead, The Community Workshop Space is Open Every day from 12pm – 8pm.
Photoshoot by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions. Photography by: Ahmed Najeeb