Mary Forbes hams it up for the camera as she helps lead a class in some bike recycling at Cataline Elementary School on oct. 3, 2022. (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Mary Forbes hams it up for the camera as she helps lead a class in some bike recycling at Cataline Elementary School on oct. 3, 2022. (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

From “feral” to Forbes, Williams Lake’s bike recycling champion

Program works to educate, mobilize and inspire

Mary Forbes is a phenom.

As young students from Ms. William’s Grade 1/2 class file out of Cataline Elementary School, she quickly focusses them with some children-savvy directions.

“Pretend your eyes are laser beams,” she directs the students lined up against a school wall. “Now point those laser beams at me and pretend you are trying to burn me with them.”

Forbes is leading this class through a session of “bike recycling” as part of her work for the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society’s work in the community recycling bikes and giving out free fixed-up bikes with the Bikes For All Program.

Her next step with Ms. William’s class is a bicycle helmet demonstration with the help of a student volunteer and comedic effect for emphasis.

The class then stops at the tool table, where she has a table covered in the necessary wrenches, screwdrivers and hex keys, all outlined in black for easy return to the table.

Once the children are properly informed of the background information they need, she sets them loose on the massive array of unrideable and wrecked bicycles carefully placed around the schoolyard.

The young students get to work, with effort and enthusiasm to figure out the puzzle which is deconstructing the bikes.

Forbes deftly interjects where and when she’s needed, and their teacher, Ms. William, is heard commenting: “I’ve never seen them so engaged.”

While some work in teams, others get fixated on their own project, lost in what they are doing.

Parts come off, tools are borrowed and swapped, and parts make their way into the collection buckets and bins.

When the time is almost up for the class, Forbes rounds up the students and the tools and they hurry around clearing up some of the mess which has been created.

“You are an amazing bike mechanic,” she tells one student who worked with particular focus. “I just loved watching you work.”

He shyly hides his face, and before they head back to their room, the entire class is praised for their help and hard work in deconstructing the bicycles.

The bikes are ones Forbes has salvaged, some by spotting them herself abandoned, or left in fields, and others are called in to her, reported by citizens who want to see these bikes put to use or at least removed. She calls them “feral bikes” and finds them in ditches, ponds and barns —when people call her to pick up their old or unused bikes.

“Every piece that we take off these bikes I use,” explains Forbes, explaining how dismantling the unridable bikes allows her to sort parts for reuse or recycling. Some parts are put back on other bikes to help build up free bikes for the Bikes for All Program, with seats and water bottle holders being highly prized.

The program has been giving free bikes away in the area for 10 years.

Recycling the bikes involves some sorting, with the majority going into general metal recycling and aluminum frames requiring extra work to strip and prepare, but they are more valuable due to the aluminum.

Williams Lake Scrap Metal are a big help, according to Forbes, and she also gets help from both local bike shops.

The program itself is funded through the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society, which is supported through a fee-for-service model from the city of Williams Lake and the Cariboo Regional District.

Forbes also tries to regain some of their costs in other ways, and recently travelled down to the coast for a bike swap where she had some collectable bikes and parts for sale. In the end, she sold two bikes and was able to purchase two high-quality pumps for her program.

While she realizes the stripping of the unridable bikes is not teaching the students how to fix bikes, she likes letting them try things and it gives them a grounding in using tools and working on things where students don’t have to worry about breaking the bikes, they are already broken.

“I like teaching people, I like inspiring people,” she explains.

It was clear from the students of Ms. William’s class, she is most definitely doing exactly that.

Forbes is offering a Bike Swap at the Potato House on Oct. 8 and 9 this weekend, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and people can come with an old bike or any bike parts they want to gift or swap and can bring a table if they want to stay for the day or drop off.

Free bikes will also be available for those who need one.

Read more: Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society’s bike brigade to gauge outdoor water use this summer

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