photo: Jesús Barrera, founder of “Un Gato en Bicicleta” outside his bookstore. / MEAGHAN WALSH
“THAT’S WHAT WE WANT TO DO, WE WANT TO HELP CREATE AND PROMOTE THAT BIKE CULTURE THAT SHOULD BE PRESENT IN A CITY WHERE BIKING HAS BECOME, AND IS CONTINUING TO BECOME, SO POPULAR.” –ISABEL PORRAS
AS THE SOUNDS OF HAMMERING, chitchatting, Spanish rock and cars driving by come together to create a melodic atmosphere, a little boy takes a bike outside to test it. “You can take both bikes for the weekend, if you want,” Fernando offers. “You can bring back the one he doesn’t like on Monday.” The mother and son walk out with both bikes and Fernando goes back to work on the gears of another customer’s bicycle.
PAINTED MAINLY WHITE, pops of orange and blue accent certain walls and structures in the store. The space is visually striking and has a rustic feel, with wooden structures and pops of color provided by colorful bikes, accessories and art. Wheels, handlebars and objects from the countryside decorate the walls.
FERNANDO’S EYES FOCUS, then dart across the room to welcome another customer ready to pick up his bike. He spends a bit of time explaining to the man exactly what was wrong with his bike before they walk over to the cash register. “Your total is seven euros.”
“WHAT I LIKE MOST is for the customer to leave happy,” says Fernando Martinez Andreu. He is the lead bike mechanic at Santa Cleta, a cooperative dedicated to cultivating a bicycle culture in Seville. With a demographic of urban, lower socio-economic customers, every bike becomes a puzzle, a challenge to find a solution within their budget.
WHILE BIKE ACCESSORY SALES and mechanic training courses bring in a large amount of customers, the store’s bike repair shop is one of its most successful elements. “Our culture has not educated us on how to buy a good bike. People would rather spend 800 euros on a camera or 400 euros on a phone, than spend half that amount on a bike they will use every day,” says Fernando. “People buy cheap bikes that break easily and are then very difficult to fix.”
THOUGH A SUCCESSFUL BIKE SALES and repair shop, Santa Cleta offers much more. Selling clothing, books, and art – all with cycling themes – this socio-cooperative is looking to create an ecological and social movement in Seville. Santa Cleta provides numerous projects that promote this social change, such as its ecological messenger system, basic and advanced classes for bicycle repair, bicycle riding classes for adults, mobility projects, bike rentals, and a shared space where debates, lectures and reunions are held. . All these components are what make Santa Cleta so special – social change is a mission that founders Isabel Porras Novalbos and Gonzalo Bueno Gómez have had from the beginning.
“OUR DAILY LIVES ARE VERY NORMAL, but we know that underneath it all we are promoting something more,” says Isabel.” For me the most gratifying [thing] is teaching adults how to ride bikes, especially women who never had the chance or were never taught at a young age. They have been stuck and in just two or three hours, when they are finally able to ride that bike, there’s this wall, this limit that’s been lifted off them.”
AFTER GONZALO LOST HIS JOB of eight years at a publishing company, he and his wife Isabel decided to sell bicycles. But they didn’t want to have another bike shop; they wanted it to have a special touch. . Once the store opened in 2013, Fernando left his job as a mechanic at an industrial machinery factory to accept the job at Santa Cleta that Gonzalo had offered him. Fernando and Gonzalo met in 2011 while participating in the demonstrations occupying Plaza de la Encarnación during the 15-M Movement, a social protest demanding a more participatory democracy and an end to severe austerity measures in Spain. They were quick friends after discovering their common passion for bicycles.
NEARLY A YEAR AFTER ITS OPENING, Santa Cleta might not bring ideal salaries – each of the three “socio-cooperatives,” as the workers call themselves, raking in only 500 euros per month – but they have remained true to their philosophy. “We buy quality pieces for our bikes,” says Fernando. “In the long-run, I think it will give us the image of having good-quality items for a good price.”
IN AUGUST OF 2014, CNN recognized Seville as the world’s second-best cycling city. It became so bike-friendly due to a citywide response to massive amounts of traffic, particularly in the mornings in the city center. In 2006, Seville’s legislators began an elaborate bicycle lane system spanning over 140 kilometers.
“THE USE OF A BIKE will always be positive. First of all, people will be generally healthier. There will be [fewer] sanitary wastes, less pollution and damage to the environment, and less traffic. I It will save people money, energy and gas, and it will save space in such a small city like Seville,” claims Fernando. “Changes can be made by producing even more bike lanes. There was already a large bump in bike usage since 2006 when the bike lanes were built, but it could go up even more.”
IN 2007, following this large construction of the city’s bicycle framework, Seville began an ambitious project to become a greener city. One of its environmentally-friendly improvements was the creation of a community bike-sharing program: Sevici.
SEVICI IS A MUNICIPAL BIKE RENTAL PLAN with 2,500 bikes at more than 250 locations. Each bike is equipped with an adjustable seat, changeable gears and a spacious basket. In addition to these comfort-driven accessories, but they also have safety systems such as front and rear lights, reflective strips, front and rear brakes and a builtin theft protection device. This allows members to ride bikes safely from one location to another. A bike can be left at any of the rental points, not only the one from which it was rented. The system was designed to be self-service and can be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sevici has allowed not only locals to enjoy its bikes, but tourists as well, who are able to ride around Seville with a week-long pass.
THESE ENHANCEMENTS to the biking infrastructure have had a direct result on biking as a main form of transportation in the city, going up from 0.1% to 7% in the eight years since the changes were made.
ALTHOUGH THERE IS now a good infrastructure for biking in Seville, the city still lacks a biking culture. “There’s been a boom with the bike, and it was so sudden that there hasn’t been time for a culture to build,” Isabel claims. That’s exactly what they’re trying rectify at Santa Cleta. “We have these projects and events not only to sell bikes but also to promote the culture of the bicycle. That’s what we want to do, we want to help create and promote that bike culture that should be present in a city where biking has become, and is continuing to become, so popular.”
FROM THE START, Santa Cleta has had a unique social and ethical mission. Isabel, Fernando and Gonzalo are simple people doing simple things, not looking to become “millionaires or rich.” They are all working to build a culture around an ever-growing population of bikers so that biking becomes more than just a mode of transportation – it becomes a lifestyle.