Award of Merit:
Good Karma Bike Shop Pumps Up Mobility and Self-Esteem
Jim Gardner founded Good Karma Bikes and coined the phrase “Transportation for Transformation.” (Photo: Noah Berger)
October 22, 2014
When Jim Gardner saw a homeless man on a rickety and unsafe bicycle, he was left with a lingering question: What is this man supposed to do to have safe and reliable transportation, especially if his bike is his only way of getting around? From the germ of this question sprouted Good Karma Bikes, a nonprofit organization founded in San Jose in 2009 that provides free bicycle repair services to underprivileged community members.
Since 2009, Good Karma Bikes has served 11,000 clients and given away 1,100 bicycles. No bike is too ugly for repairing at Good Karma, and everyone is welcome, from financially strapped parents seeking a bike for a child to individuals who rely on their bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. This volunteer-based organization not only does repairs but also teaches people how to fix and maintain their bicycles themselves. They even have a Good Karma Kids program that allows youths the opportunity to get involved in everything from rehabilitating bicycles to giving bikes to peers in need.
“Quite honestly, Good Karma Bikes is amazing,” said MTC Policy Advisory Council Member Randi Kinman, who works with low-income residents in Santa Clara County. “The dignity and respect that they show to all people — whether on their last step on the way down or taking their first step on the way up — is amazing.”
Nearly 90 percent of Good Karma’s clients are homeless, and less than 15 percent are employed. More than half of its clients earn money from recycling; of those, 90 percent use a bicycle to do so. Some 90 percent rely on their bicycles as their primary means of transportation.
Clients are invited to return as volunteers, where they learn bicycle repair skills and help others. “Some of our client-volunteers have acquired enough experience through our Certified Bicycle Technician job skills program to begin teaching others,” Gardner said. “This is a terrific self-esteem boost, as well as an avenue to future employment and increased self-sufficiency.”
To Gardner, offering this transitional employment in the bike shop is the real work of Good Karma Bikes, whose motto is “Transportation for Transformation.” “Good Karma Bikes is not about bikes,” Gardner said. “Bikes are the medium we work in.” Instead, Good Karma is about providing adults in recovery, whether from substance abuse, homelessness or other challenges, the opportunity to change their lives.
The organization has earned its Good Karma name in spades, and now it has also earned regional recognition in the form of an MTC Award of Merit.
— Khristina Wenzinger