Worth the work

  • Jeremias Pink, gives away bikes at Poky Free Bicycles in Pocatello, Idaho

    Shelly Nelson photos COURTESY POKY FREE BIKES
  • A tall bike, one of the Poky’s own inventions

    Shelly Nelson photos COURTESY POKY FREE BIKES

NAME: Jeremias Pink

AGE: 24

VOCATION: Graphic designer, nonprofit organizer, bicycle mechanic

HOME BASE: Pocatello, Idaho

KNOWN FOR: Giving away bicycles

HE’S READING: Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing by anthropologist Michael Taussig

FAVORITE FOOD: “I eat what I’m told.”

HE SAYS: “Whether or not we’re accomplishing our mission of getting rid of cars doesn’t matter anymore. There is a real need in this community for our service that isn’t really provided anywhere else.”

In the basement of a former hydroelectric powerhouse along the cement-walled Portneuf River, Jeremias Pink rummages through boxes of bicycle parts. He’s looking for a derailleur to attach to the 1970s-era ten-speed brought in by a grungy 14-year-old complaining of a clunking when he pedals. All around him, old bikes, from one-speeds with fat tires and rusted fenders to tricycles and ten-speeds, line the cold, grimy walls of the building.

At Poky Free Bikes, Pink and a group of other volunteers teach people how to patch tubes, adjust derailleurs and, in extreme cases, weld. Pink, whose looks and mannerisms evoke an Art Garfunkel with dreadlocks, strides easily between work areas. His goal is to ensure that anyone who walks in the door and is willing to put in the time can ride away on a bicycle, for free. Giving away bikes might not be novel in places like Missoula or Portland, but in Pocatello, Idaho, it’s borderline subversive.

Pocatello has become a complexly conservative place. Formerly a union stronghold due to its railroad ties, Pocatello has a history of being one of the more liberal cities in Idaho. But since the Right to Work Act passed in 1985, the unions have lost some influence. Couple that with an influx of conservative Latter-day Saints — not the Harry Reid variety — and Pocatello has moved closer to the Idaho political mainstream, where George Bush has one of the highest approval ratings in the country.

Like Pocatello, Pink’s political background is mixed: His dad’s a Republican, his mom a Democrat, and they had no television when he was a child, so political debate was a pretty typical evening’s entertainment. After he “fell in with a bunch of dirty punks and hippies” as a teenager, it was clear that Pink would follow his mother politically.

That led him to start Poky Free Bikes, now an established nonprofit, with 10 friends, largely in response to the urban sprawl that has affected many Western communities. Pink believes sprawl is hurting local business and destroying Pocatello’s sense of community. As the city center decays, its chain-store periphery spreads into former farmland like an oil spill. Staples, Big 5, Wal-Mart and other big boxes have moved in, and one of Pink’s friends had his whole neighborhood bulldozed for a Lowe’s parking lot.

Given the general local pro-growth sentiment — even many of Pink’s clients don’t share his ideals — this 24-year-old faces an uphill battle. In the three years since Poky Free Bikes started, he’s learned that people don’t go to the shop because they want to fight urban sprawl; they go “because their brakes don’t work.”

Still, by teaching people how to repair their own bikes and providing the tools for them to do so, Pink hopes that Poky Free Bikes will keep Pocatello’s bicyclists riding longer than they otherwise would have.

Pink isn’t the only Pocatello native with a left-leaning political slant, but many of his like-minded cohorts, fed up with the town’s politics and culture, have moved on to communities more in line with their ideals. Not Pink. “It’s a cop-out to move to another community just for its alternative culture,” he says in a deep, quiet voice. “It’s like throwing your community to the dogs.” Pink also finds that living in Pocatello keeps him from becoming complacent; here, he is forced to constantly evaluate, question, and, ultimately, strengthen his beliefs. Pink and his remaining friends keep busy. “We like to drink cheap beer and build shit,” says Pink. This includes welding old bike parts together to create “tall bikes” and other mechanical monstrosities. Pink does graphic design work to pay the bills, and he’s a student at Idaho State University.

Walking down the street in torn, dirty jeans and a T-shirt, Pink is greeted with friendly hellos, despite his liberal politics. “I’m part of this place,” he says. “I think it needs work, and I think it’s worth the work.”

The author writes from Pocatello, Idaho.

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