April 10, 2023

Stop, Swap and Save

Whether you’re looking for a mountain-, road-, children’s or commuter bike, mark May 6 on your calendar. And all those people who are at the Alberta Bike Swap to help you — from bike technicians to cashiers — remember they're volunteers. Be kind, be patient and get there early
bike safety poster

Just like the launch of Southwest Airlines, the script for A Few Good Men and the design for the first MRI scanner — the idea began with a sketch and a scribble on the back of a napkin.

“Yep, in 2011, that’s exactly how [husband] Chris and I conjured up the idea of a safe place to buy and sell bikes,” grins Laura Grant, the co-founder/director of the Alberta Bike Swap that’s running May 6 at Calgary’s Genesis Centre. Avid cyclists and fans of the long-running police bike auction, Laura and Chris, decided to test their theory that both Calgary and Edmonton could stand for more bike events. That first year, they rented the Bowness Arena where 1,200 people lined up to buy a bicycle. All 250 bikes were sold in 20 minutes.

Boom. They knew they were on to something.

Hundreds line up at the Alberta Bike Swap

Apart from running Calgary and Edmonton’s colossal one-day bike swap that will likely see 600 to 800 bikes exchange hands in each city, the organizers have helped other groups across North America organize bike swaps.

Since then, this duo has been running bike swaps in Calgary (always the first Saturday in May), and Edmonton (always the second Saturday in May), as well as sharing their expertise with other bike-friendly initiatives and jurisdictions across Canada. Typically, in Calgary, a fleet of 250 volunteers sign up to record serial numbers, process sales, be greeters, technicians and, in exchange, they get a sneak peek at the inventory and first dibs.

“We’ve seen everything from cracked frames to pedals that have been glued on,” explains Laura. “That’s why every bike is tech-checked and why we have a 12% rejection rate.” A lifelong learner, Laura, who has an undergrad degree in math and computer science from the University of Alberta, had begun her master’s degree at UCalgary in environmental science in 2006, but the science portion of the degree folded in 2008, preventing Laura from completing her degree.

Laura and Chris Grant

Laura and Christ Grant, the founders of the Alberta Bike Swap

At the time, her thesis was going to explore the possibility of replacing lawns with native landscapes that “would provide biodiversity, create food security, and reduce water and chemicals that eventually end up in our watershed.” While in grad school, she had taken courses on carbon accounting and measurement and wrote a carbon-offset protocol that she called Weapons of Grass Destruction, which she gave to The City of Calgary in 2010, which would have helped reduce its carbon footprint in myriad, innovative ways. As a UCalgary student, Laura cycled to and from campus, which later led her to mentor UCalgary sustainability students and to help start the university’s bike-share program.

Apart from running Calgary and Edmonton’s colossal one-day event that will likely see 600 to 800 bikes exchange hands, with the average sale being $280, the Grants have helped other groups across North America organize bike swaps. Working with various charities, from Cerebral Palsy Kids and Two Wheel View to Bicycles for Humanity, these groups get first dibs on the swap’s donated bikes as they may need parts in order to retrofit a bike for a child with special needs (specifically CP Kids). In 2022, some $55,000 in bike parts and bikes were donated to other non-profits and charities. As well, 665 bikes were donated to the swap in 2022 alone, keeping those bikes out of a landfill.

But don’t assume that the Grants hang up their bikes for the rest of the year. Working with some 55 organizations, their expertise has been used at UCalgary’s Chancellor’s Ride, other children’s hospital bike swaps in Ottawa and Montreal, mentorship programs, and fund safe cycling throughout western Canada. They also run educational programs such as Bike Mythbusters through local libraries as Chris is the only Can-Bike master instructor in the province. The next one-hour Bike Mythbusters session is running April 15 at the Saddletowne Library.

Sometimes, a group will want to rent event-style bike racks (the Grants have patented their own rack system), or their software system (which records every new owner on the Bike Index and verifies that a bike has not been reported as stolen). In fact, it was shortly after appearing on CBC Gem’s Dream Team, that a coder came forward and coded their own fit-for-purpose software to cloud services. So unique is this bike swap software, that, for the past decade, the duo has now spoken at international events on innovation, sustainability and cycling about how bikes can save the world.

Here's how the swap works: If you’re in Calgary and have a bike you wish to donate, just bring it to the Genesis Centre, 7555 Falconridge Blvd. N.E., between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. on May 6. Have a bike you wish to sell? Set a fair price and bring it to the same spot and, if it sells, you will receive 85 per cent of the asking price. The other 15 per cent goes to Alberta Bike Swap for truck rentals, venue rentals, bike racks, tablets, software, etc. Doors to the public buyers open at 2:30 p.m., but get there early!

And there's more: For those unable to make the May 6th swap, there will be another AB Bike Saw, hosted by the Faculty of Kinesiology at the Olympic Oval on Saturday, June 17! Just bring your bike for sale or donation to the East Loading Dock at the Olympic Oval, between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is a family-friendly event, all are welcome!