Volunteering at Maya Pedal Felix Wong

What exactly does a volunteer at Maya Pedal do? The short answer is almost everything a person would need to do in a bike shop, machine shop, business and household. Below describes the typical volunteer at Maya Pedal and how I spent my time at Maya Pedal, with suggestions at the bottom for projects that could help make Maya Pedal a more viable non-government organization (NGO).

The Volunteers

The volunteers at Maya Pedal are usually folks from a First World country who fit in one or both of these categories: 1) people who wanted to travel through Central America on limited funds, and 2) those who love bicycles and want to help make a difference in a developing country.

Typically, the volunteers are in their 20s and are either in college (and taking time off) or recently graduated without job prospects. However, some folks like Bruce and myself are in their 30s, and while I was there an elderly German couple that had volunteered with Maya Pedal four years ago came to say hello.

Not all volunteers have bicycle- or even much mechanical experience. They generally fit into Category #1. However, almost everyone acquires enough mechanical skill with time assuming they are staying at least a few weeks.

There is a radical element among the volunteers: those who enjoy smoking pot, do not want to work, love tattoos and are quite anti-technology. At least they generally care for the well-being of the earth and will do their part to compost and reduce plastic waste!

My Two Weeks at Maya Pedal

December 26, 2010 (Sunday)

  • Two kids came in with a ball with a 1″ cut. I tried, somewhat successfully, to patch it with rubber and rubber cement.
  • Grocery shopping with Michelle in town.
  • Allen brought in old hard drive for computer, but couldn’t get it working. Volunteers lost quite a few files and photos.
  • Installed Google Voice on computer. Computer definitely has a virus.
  • Studied Spanish bicycle vocabulary.

December 27, 2010 (Monday)

  • In wheel room, sorted through tubes: searched for good ones, tried to patch bad ones (only successfully patching 1/3rd of them; some were unsalvageable).
  • A man came in with a bicycle frame he purchased here last week. He wanted to exchange it because the rear chainstays were not wide enough to accommodate a 26″ wheel without rubbing. Found him a replacement frame, but had to get ok from Carlos.
  • Carlos was having a tooth pulled when I called him, so he asked me to talk to him about the frame tomorrow.
  • Started building rear wheel. Needed 3 spokes and nipples, axle and bearings.
  • Went out to the street, brought back 4 banana bread muffins for dessert.

December 28, 2010 (Tuesday)

  • Woke up early due to noise (see The Sound of Silence post).
  • Eggs, melon slices, tortillas, beans and rice for breakfast
  • Got ok from Carlos on exchanging bike.
  • Started building experimental bicimaquina for deskinning frijoles (beans) from experimental bicilavadora (bicycle washing machine).
  • Cut 25cm x 25cm hole in barrel (formerly a metal trash bin).
  • Cut bed railings to size. They would serve as an outer support to the center drum axle.
  • Allen quickly showed me how to arc-weld.
  • While working on the bicimaquina, a bus came flying down the street. It lost its brakes!
  • One minute later, neighbor drove onto street. Flat right tire! We inflated it with our air compressor.
  • Finished building up rear wheel (Shimano hub was missing 3 spokes).
  • Went down to the city center. Found cemento blanco at the hardware store to patch holes in wall. Bought 3 bandages (curitas) at auto parts store.
  • Called to make reservation at Hotel Palacio Chico in Antigua for the Saturday night.
  • Watched a movie called “Vampireland” on Mike’s laptop with the other volunteers in the dining room.

December 29, 2010 (Wednesday)

  • Fruit salad, oats and raisins, eggs for breakfast.
  • Drilled out L-brackets for bicimaquina.
  • Fixed bike with too much play in rear wheel by cleaning its bearings and replacing a cracked bearing cup using Bruce’s ingenious “weld rebar to the bearing cup and hammer it out” technique.
  • Yellow cake for brunch with Carlos and Allen.
  • Boy and girl came over to Maya Pedal with two flat tires. After diagnosing no puncture in front and rear, inflated both tires and charged one Quetzal. However, shortly after the kids returned, and the rear tire had completely blown (torn). I gave them a quote on replacing it with a new tire (unfortunately we only had one 16″ tire) and the kids said they would ask their parents.
  • A mother came in with another kid’s bike. She thought that the tires had punctures, but after inflating the tires, they seemed to hold air.
  • Adjusted brakes on the kid’s bike.
  • Tensioned rear chain that kept falling off because the “tabbed rectangular washers” in the rear were installed the wrong way.
  • Flipped over brake levers and bar ends so that the attachment nuts faced downward.
  • Tightened seat.
  • Michele led a tour group from Antigua at 3pm.
  • Helped Michele with new bicimacadamia machine, including removing the stem.
  • Bent handlebars to make them symmetrical on bicimacadamia machine with tool used to align fork (could apply a lot of leverage).
  • Checked trueness of a couple wheels.
  • Michele’s friend Megan came. We went down to centro, choco-bananos (Q1) bought fried pretzel-shaped items (Q1), picked up vegetables and banana bread.
  • Went down to the ravine to check out where trash was dumped (illegally – there’s a sign saying no dumping trash). The trash was being burned and smelled really bad.
  • Kids Nimsey and Jamie came by to chat with me while tour group was here. At 6:45pm, little Kimberley came by. We talked for 15 minutes. She was, as usual, overly affectionate and gave me hugs and a kiss.

Michelle giving a demonstration of the bicilicuadora (bicycle blender) during a tour of Maya Pedal.

December 30, 2010 (Thursday)

  • Welded/grinded brackets to bici-frijole machine.
  • Guy and kid came in with two bikes. Fixed one (chain tension) for Q5; finished by 4pm other bike which had blown bearing cup (Q15, required welding).
  • Woman came in to pick up the bike I fixed yesterday (aired up tires).
  • Rudy (maker of accessories for cars, trucks, bicycles, including chroming) bought two chrome fenders for red bike he is restoring. Then he bought California Cruiser bike for Q1000 after called Carlos and Carlos Jr. came in.
  • Carlos Roberto and Jose came in. Jose had modified compact frame with holed out saddle. Carlos Roberto on Nishiki. Bought crankset and bottomo bracket for Q190 along with two more bottom brackets and something else for Q255 total.
  • Three cycletourists (two women from Antigua and a boyfriend from Guatemala) came in and bought four road bikes for Q4 each. I helped air up tires and adjust brakes.
  • Made a stir fry for dinner and bought tortillas.

December 31, 2010 (Friday)

  • Cooked eggs, heated up oats, toast with margerine, cut up melon slices for breakfast.
  • Worked on bici-frijole machine.
  • Rinsed out methanol tank that was going to be used as an internal drum for the bici-frijole machine. Found out that methanol tank had plastic liner inside.
  • Biked down to Chimaltenango with Bruce for 3 copies of keys.
  • Two key shops were closed before we found a third.
  • Biked back to San Andrés Itzapa on a broken rear spoke (released the rear brake on an uphill so the wheel wouldn’t rub as badly on it). Almost was taken out by a chicken bus.
  • Talked with Bruce about bikes, his friend who rode the Canning Trail, Detours bags, etc. He showed me photos of his bikes and of him when he won a couple mountain bike races.

January 1, 2011 (Saturday)

  • Took a chicken bus from San Andrés Itzapa to Chimaltenango to Antigua and went looking for Hotel Chico Palacio. First place said it moved; second place said the one I had a reservation at had was at different location. Finally found it near Iglesia La Merced.
  • Showered for the first time in a week and took nap of few hours.
  • Bought food at La Merced, including horita and pan con pollo. For the latter, gave Q10, and was not given any change back (should have been Q8 but was not sure).
  • Bought water for Q5. Vendor tried to give me back Q40 instead of Q45 (from Q50) by handing me a stack of 8 5-Quetzales, but I counted and corrected him.

January 2, 2011 (Sunday)

  • Breakfast at hotel.
  • Ran to Casa Panza Verde
  • Yoga class 9:00-10:30p (instructor named Lila, probably from Russia) had mostly Gringos.
  • Got food from La Merced.
  • Took a chicken bus from Antigua to Aposentros to Itzapa.
  • While walking back to Maya Pedal from the bus station, ran into Bruce and Patrick (who just arrived after flying in from St. Louis a couple days ago).
  • Had a late lunch at Comedora (Q15 for soup, tortillas, meat and potatoes, and horchata (Mexican rice drink).
  • Mike tried using SVG software to resolve the computer virus issue. Ended up taking 18 hours (to about 11am Monday) but solved the problem.

January 3, 2011 (Monday)

  • Purchased a fluorescent light bulb for Q17 from the hardware store downtown.
  • Bought tomatoes, onion, avocado, eggs for breakfast.
  • Helped clean up shop before monthly meeting with the junta.
  • On computer, Bruce put “No tocar. This means you Alan” sign since the anti-virus software hadn’t completed yet.
  • Replaced training wheels on kids bike for customer; required “rock climbing” on ledge of wall to reach box full of training wheels.
  • The junta called in all volunteers to ask about the “no tocar” sign. Bruce said it was a joke, and then I had to do the full-on explanation in front of the junta in Spanish. Junta chief (Alan’s dad) said it was a good explanation and thanked us. Said that his suggestion is that any time we do something, we need to communicate with Alan and Carlos, to which I agreed.
  • Trued several wheels.
  • Michele and her new friend Byron came to Maya Pedal. Purchased shuttle by Liberty to Travel tour company (from Byron) from Antigua to GUA for $USD6. Turned out Byron was a scammer.
  • Went over to two places that had bicibombas in service.
  • Rode on back of Carlos’ Suzuki, which tipped over onto us with a quarter-mile to go after the front tire hit some loose dirt at low speed. Carlos hurt his knee with bike weight on him. But he seemed to take the brunt of the fall since I was totally unhurt except dirty.
  • Second house with bicibomba had blown bottom bracket bearing cups.
  • Also tried to get their gas-powered generator working better. I pulled a spark plug, which we then cleaned. Generator seemed to work a little better.

January 4, 2011 (Tuesday)

  • Mopped showroom and bicimaquina room with Patrick.
  • Gave tour of Maya Pedal to newly arriving volunteers, Shakirah and Aaron, from England.
  • Got Ross bike ready in showroom (pedals, handlebar, seat, brake levers) with Shakirah.
  • Inflated ball for kids.
  • Installed brake pads and rear derailleur cable for shop’s mountain bike.
  • Read 70 pages of Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

January 5, 2011 (Wednesday)

  • “Alarm clock radio” went off from 2:41-4:01am. Had dream about it, about how was looking for an alarm clock radio in a friend’s house and found it and turned it off after figuring out complicated electronic sequence. Woke up and radio was still on.
  • Got tortillas for breakfast: actually went to unmarked place three or four doors up the hill and had woman deliver 25 tortillas to Maya Pedal for Q5.
  • Sold 700c fork, sin rascos, para frenos discos (Q150), regular old fork (Q60), and bottom bracket cartridge (Q25, should have been Q150) to Jose after calling Carlos on the phone and discussing prices.
  • Installed brake cables and new front derailleur cable on shop mountain bike.
  • Gave Q21 quote to woman to fix kids bike with loose chain and shot rear wheel bearing cups.
  • Gave Q20 quote to man to replace drive-side spoke. Installed replacement spoke, trued wheel, and reinstalled everything.
  • Gave Q65 quote to woman (for new bottom bracket, new viela that it did not need, flat tire repair + labor) who brought in mountain bike, saying it would be ready by 3pm the next day. Got it done by 7:00p. Also adjusted rear derailleur and shortened chain.

January 6, 2011 (Thursday)

  • Neighborhood alarm clock radio went off from 4:43-5:16a.
  • Replaced rear tube in woman’s Shimano-labeled mountain bike from yesterday. She picked it up today in the afternoon and paid Q65 for it.
  • Helped Shakirah remove bottom bracket on old Murray mountain bike frame.
  • Cut and bent rebar with Patrick to start making cage for a new bicimacadamia machine.
  • Two friendly police officers (one sporting a machine gun) came looking for parts. I took them to the roof to take a look at a Centurion aluminum road frame and aluminum dual-suspension mountain bike. The guy with the machine gun patted me on my back and complimented my Spanish.
  • Replaced rear tube on kids bike for one the kids brought in. Aired up front tire too. Charged them Q2 because that was all they had, but afterward Carlos said I shouldn’t have charged them since they didn’t have a father.
  • Said goodbye to Carlos, since he wouldn’t be coming in the morning due to having to pick up documentation for his car in Guate.

January 7, 2011 (Friday)

  • Helped cooked breakfast and clean dishes.
  • Said goodbyes to everyone and took a chicken bus to Antigua to spend my last full day in Guatemala.

Future Projects for Volunteers

  • Create some sort of bookkeeping/accounting system. This could be done with Google Spreadsheets, for example. Currently there is no ledger of recording customer transactions. I can imagine the employee who cleans out the lockbox at the end of the day pocketing some of the money since there is almost no documentation and accountability in regards to parts sales and repairs, with the exception of paper receipts given for bicycle sales.
  • Create a more detailed parts and service list for what to charge customers. Too frequently, I had to pull numbers out of my rear end on the fly because there was not enough guidance provided by the price list in the office. Perhaps call or visit other local bike shops to get a better idea of prices.
  • Instead of keeping files locally on the computer (which is prone to getting wiped out by viruses), keep files on the cloud (e.g., Google Apps).
  • Contact organizations around the world about shipping over more bikes. The two usual sources in the U.S. have dried up partly due to political reasons.
  • Create some sort of system for accepting donations (e.g., PayPal).
  • Look into applying for 501c3 to establish more trust and legitimacy, which in turn could enable more donations.
  • Marketing of bicimaquinas.

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Sign outside Maya Pedal. (January 6, 2011)Sleeping quarters for the volunteers were not exactly the Hilton.  Note how these bed frames used recycled bicycle tubes as suspension. (December 26, 2010)The showroom would have about a third as many bikes that are shown by the time I'd leave Maya Pedal. (December 26, 2010)The nice view of Guatemala from the rooftop of Maya Pedal. (December 26, 2010)Michelle and Kimberley, one of the super affectionate local children. (December 26, 2010)Breakfast at Maya Pedal. (December 27, 2010)Patching holes in the downstairs bathroom wall with cemento blanco (white cement) I picked up at a ferreter (December 28, 2010)How the plumbing works at Maya Pedal (not very well). (December 28, 2010)Bruce helping lower a bicimaquina from the roof. (December 26, 2010)The experimental bicilavadora (bicycle washing machine) being lowered down to the shop floor. (December 26, 2010)Drawing the outline of a 25cm X 25cm square to be cut out from this bicimaquina. (December 26, 2010)The hole after cutting it out with a rotary metal cutter. (December 26, 2010)Welding up a frame that would attach to the side of this bicimaquina via bolts attached to angle brackets I'd have to weld on. (December 26, 2010)Patching holes in the downstairs bathroom wall with cemento blanco (white cement) I picked up at a ferreter (December 28, 2010)Bruce serving up food on the Lazy Susan that Julian had made from a freewheel and rebar. (December 28, 2010)The bearings and cups were completely shot on this customer wheel. (December 29, 2010)I had to weld in a piece of rebar to the bearing cups and hammer them out. (December 29, 2010)Carlos cutting a piece of metal. (December 29, 2010)Bruce with a crankset he managed to kluge together. (December 29, 2010)Bruce's managed to "create" this crankset.  Note how he had to cut off the spider arms on the middle chainring to get it to work. (December 29, 2010)This customer bike also had shot bearings and cups. (December 30, 2010)Patrick bending rebar around a 24" wheel to create a cage for a new bicimacadamia machine. (January 6, 2011)I had to use the weld-rebar-to-bearing-cup trick to remove the completely shot bearing cup. (December 30, 2010)A customer who came in to buy parts created this bike.  He had a friend reweld frame tubes to give it compact geometry. Also cut out the saddle and removed every 8th spoke from the wheel. (December 30, 2010)The three people from Antigua leave Maya Pedal with the four bicycles they purchased for Q350 each (about US$44). (December 30, 2010)Felix Wong rinsing out a methanol tank that was to be used as an interior drum for the new bici-frijole machine. (December 31, 2010)We had an utter shortage of 26" forks, and this one had a steerer tube too long for this bike frame.  Bruce got it to work by using 3" worth of locknuts as spacers. (December 31, 2010)Bed railing was useful as raw material for many of the bicimaquinas. (December 31, 2010)Two folks from Antigua who came in to purchase the kids bike, shown, as a gift for some people they were visiting. (January 4, 2011)Nice sunset (but lots of pollution) as seen from the roof of Maya Pedal. (January 4, 2011)This bike was to be a gift for a boy, so I swapped its original pink seat for a black one to make it less girly.  Also added training wheels. (January 4, 2011)The busy shop at Maya Pedal. (January 6, 2011)Patrick bending rebar around a 24" wheel to make a cage for a new bicimacadamia machine. (January 6, 2011)Michelle hard at work. (January 6, 2011)Me and Carlos on my last full day at Maya Pedal. (January 6, 2011)

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