A global pandemic presents interesting challenges for everyone and everything, and nonprofits are no exception. While the Silicon Valley Bicycle Exchange unfortunately can't safely hold our large weekend volunteer events, we're grateful for a dedicated group of loyal volunteers that has powered our operations during this interesting time.
These volunteers book appointments to pick up "homework bikes" and parts and refurbish them at home.
One such volunteer, Patrick Twohy, has worked on no less than 17 homework bikes since mid-July.
The retired journalist and now sailing instructor first discovered SVBE as a bike donor, but now comes back weekly to pick up take-home projects and the necessary bike parts.
We caught up with Patrick, our latest featured volunteer, to learn more about his background and volunteering experience.
Who is Patrick Twohy?
I was born in San Jose, but I grew up in Sacramento. I went to the University of California at Santa Cruz (Go Slugs!), where I got a BA in economics. I also have a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia. I spent 30 years working as a reporter and editor for newspapers, wire services and news websites in New York, Pittsburgh and here in the Bay Area.
In 2013, I retired from all that and focused on sailing. I hold a master’s certificate from the Coast Guard, which allows me to do sailing charters aboard my boat in San Francisco Bay. I also teach and do boat maintenance at a sailing school and club in Redwood City.
I have three young-adult kids. None of them bike all that much. But my wife does. One of the things that impressed me when we met was her biking history. She is a South Florida native who had, among other things, completed a trip from there diagonally across the United States to Oregon, and eventually Alaska. She was a little intimidating. But interesting!
I wouldn’t call myself a bike nut, but I have biked ever since I received a single-speed green Schwinn Corvette for Christmas when I was eight years old. I can’t imagine the number of miles I put on that tank, but I was on it all the time. Sometime in middle school, I graduated to a yellow Schwinn Continental. By the time I got to UC Santa Cruz, I was getting up and down the hill from town to campus on a Univega or some other brand.
How did you get involved with SVBE?
There have always been lots of bikes in our garage. At some point, we decided that our inventory should not exceed about two per resident of our house. So when it came time to clear some of them out, I looked around for where to donate. Voilá, SVBE.
What keeps you coming back?
There’s something really satisfying about resurrecting a non-functional bike. Bikes act as an extension of our bodies, so in bringing a bike back to life, I feel like I’m rehabilitating what can become a prosthetic-like extension for some future rider or riders, helping them extend the reach of their lives.
Bikes were a revolutionary innovation at the time they became widely popular at the end of the 19th century. I think they represented the first chance in human history for individuals to reliably, inexpensively and conveniently move from place to place at something faster than walking speed. And bike mechanics back in the day were the super-hackers of their age. It’s no surprise to me at all that the airplane was invented by two bike mechanics! Bikes are a terrifically elegant solution to an age-old problem.
Also, I believe in the mission of an organization like SVBE—getting more cheap, clean, reliable transportation into the hands of people in our region who need it, while helping people learn to maintain their bikes themselves.
You’ve worked on a number of different bikes. Which bike stands out as the most memorable, or your favorite?
Tough question. They all present a challenge on some level. The bigger the challenge, I guess, the more interesting and the more fun—and the more I’m likely to learn—which is also a big part of why I like doing this kind of thing.
What’s your favorite bike tool?
Another good question. I have a special affinity for the bike chain tool. Not sure why. It’s a lovely little device that does something that seems impossible. And yet, it’s easy to use.
What is your background in cycling? And on wrenching on bikes?
When you’re broke and your bike’s broke, you gotta fix it yourself. That was the younger me. So, with “Anybody’s Bike Book” in hand—with thanks to Tom Cuthbertson, for writing it—and a few tools, I could always get back on the road. My copy, from 1979, is probably a little out of date.
What can you share about your personal or family bike collection?
Well, let’s see. I commuted to work from Burlingame to San Francisco on a bike that I took aboard Caltrain. I went through a couple of bikes on that job—the last one was stolen outside a bar while I was having drinks with colleagues on my last day of work.
When the economy was slow, there was lots of room for bikes on the train. As the economy heated up, the bike car filled, and I’d often get bumped or refused the right to board. But Caltrain’s policy of always allowing foldable bikes on board pushed me to get one of those—what a friend calls my circus bike. One looks a little like a clown on it, but it’s quick, easy to use and I never had to miss a train because of it. It’s kinda fun to ride, too.
When I spent a year abroad in Cairo, Egypt, I found biking to be the easiest, if not always the safest, way to get around that huge, and hugely crowded, city. Due to the traffic, cars, buses and trucks generally moved pretty slowly. So biking was almost always faster than a taxi or bus ride. I had somehow gotten ahold of a Czechoslovakian ten-speed. It had never been in great shape, and I put a lot of hard urban miles on it—including discovering what felt like a pothole the size of a strip-mining pit one night on a dark street. By the time I was done with that bike, there wasn’t much true about the wheels, or anything else, on it. But I was still able to sell it. One durable bike!
When I later attended journalism school in New York, one of my professors, who had been a UPI correspondent in China, toodled around upper Manhattan on a Flying Pigeon that he had brought home with him. That’s probably the bike I coveted more than any other over the years.
What have you learned since volunteering with SVBE?
I hadn’t worked on bikes in a while, so volunteering with SVBE reminded me of the satisfaction I get from making mechanical things work.
What's been the most interesting problem to deal with?
There’s so much I haven’t yet mastered. And every bit of what I don’t know yet is interesting.
What’s your favorite bike ride, local or otherwise?
Usually my most recent ride. But my family and I did a week-long bike tour of Burgundy in France a few years ago, which was terrific. Before that, we did a tour of the Costa Brava in Spain. What’s cool about those areas, and lots of Europe, is that they’ve repurposed lots of former rail right-of-ways to be exclusive bike routes with no automobiles. So it’s possible to take multi-day trips on good routes with virtually no motorized traffic or very lightly traveled roads.
Thanks for your time and all that you do for SVBE!