Jennifer Natyzak knows the value of a set of wheels, and she wants to help get Saratogians rolling.
As president of Bikeatoga, an organization that not only provides bike giveaways and performs repairs but also does advocacy work, she’s seen firsthand the gratification of giving and getting a bike.
“I got involved because I saw the Kids Bike Giveaway advertised and they were looking for volunteers,” Natyzak said. “It’s a great opportunity to share the joy of bikes and get bikes to people who may otherwise not be able to have access to them.”
Bikeatoga was founded in 2005 by Ian Klepetar. Its initial focus was to make Saratoga Springs a safer place to bike.
Since then, it’s also added a bike rescue program in which volunteer mechanics work alongside those who need a bike and show them how to repair and care for it. Once they’ve worked on a bike for a number of hours, the bike is theirs to take home.
“That model ensures that people have the investment in the bicycle but also that they have skills so that they can take care of the bike. So that they can repair their chains. So that they are savvy with this new tool that they have. I think that’s one of the coolest things that we do. To work alongside people and teach people these skills is truly an awesome experience,” Natyzak said.
In its workshop, located in the basement of The Church of St. Peter on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, mechanics can often be found working with people from all walks of life.
“We work with a ton of homeless people along with people from the race track who don’t have licenses and don’t have access to cars,” Natyzak said.
They also work with college students living on shoestring budgets, looking for a set of wheels to get them to and from work or around campus.
Picking up speed
During the pandemic, the mechanics were busier than ever.
“The only people allowed in our shop were mechanics, so people had to drop off their bikes and couldn’t work on their bikes [with the mechanics]. So that meant the delay on bike repairs was really backlogged,” Natyzak said.
At the same time, with so many people looking for something to do to get out of the house, a wave of community members began biking for the first time or took their old bikes out for a spin.
“Spring of 2020 was the busiest year that I’ve seen in the shop and the busiest year potentially ever in the shop. So many people wanted bikes, and bikes were sold out at stores across the region but also across the country. People from all sorts of economic backgrounds were coming to Bikeatoga, which we often see, but we’ve never seen in that volume,” Natyzak said.
The group has also been busy with community education and advocacy work. This summer, through funding from the Capital District Transportation Authority, Biketoga created a Slow Your Roll campaign, posting signs around the community and advertisements on Facebook urging people to be cautious of bikers and others.
“Our families and our neighbors, we all benefit from being more conscious as we’re driving and also slowing down, especially in neighborhoods where there’s kids on bikes and people with walkers … that we share the road with,” Natyzak said.
Recently, volunteers from the organization presented a joint resolution to the Saratoga Springs City Council urging continuous bike lanes. In 2016, the city adopted a Complete Streets plan that led to the installation of bike lanes on Lake Avenue, North Broadway and Excelsior Avenue. However, according to the resolution, there’s still more work to be done, including adding bike lane signage and striping, which Bikeatoga believes will make the city safer for cyclists and will decrease automobile dependence.
“The city has a plan that is absolutely excellent, and we just need to follow through and our community will be all the safer for it,” Natyzak said.
Bikeatoga has roughly 25 active volunteer mechanics and advocates, a number Natyzak said she’s hoping to increase. One way to do that: invite community members on a bike tour. Recently, they’ve gone on long bike trips around the county, riding upward of 40 miles one way, camping and looping back the following day.
“A lot of us really enjoy bike touring, and it’s a really great way to appreciate Saratoga County and appreciate the beauty that we have up here in upstate New York, and we hope to get more people involved with us just through that because it’s just a different angle to biking,” Natyzak said.
They’ve also done monthly community rides called Slow Rolls in Saratoga Springs, partnering with Impressions of Saratoga, Pint Sized, Palette Cafe and other businesses.
“These are community-friendly bike rides that average eight to 10 miles per hour. We have people from ages 2 to 70 riding around,” Natyzak said. “It was started in the springtime of the pandemic.”
The next Slow Roll is slated for 11 a.m. on Halloween, kicking off in front of Palette Cafe.
“These are really fun community bike rides. We just want to get people out and about, enjoying their bike,” Natyzak said.
Bikeatoga mechanics will also be at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market with a mobile repair vehicle (or MRV, as Natyzak calls it). The cargo bike has large bags for repair tools and a bike rack so that mechanics can work on other bikes.
“We’ve been doing more and more events around town where we pop up with the bike, and we can do maintenance and repairs as needed,” Natyzak said. “We went to the backstretch with the Backstretch Employee Service Team and worked on a ton of people’s bikes over there. That was really awesome.”
Even as they’re repairing bikes, volunteers make it a point to teach bike owners about what they’re doing.
“It’s a cool piece to continue to educate the community about how to work on their bikes but also offer pop-up maintenance for people as they need,” Natyzak said.
For more information about Bikeatoga, including bike workshop hours and community events, visit bikeatoga.org.
Year founded: 2005
Mission: Bikeatoga is dedicated to pushing for a better future by making functional cycling more convenient, accessible, and safer in and around Saratoga Springs. Our volunteer members work to emphasize the environmental, economic and health-related benefits of everyday cycling. By working together, we believe we can create a healthier, more vibrant and more sustainable community.
Areas served: Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County
Quote from the president: “We want volunteers and supporters to grow our workshop and our advocacy, and we welcome people of all interest levels and experience levels with bikes.” — Jennifer Natyzak.