| Follow Us:


Sarah Sidelko

Tunde Wey
March 21, 2012

If a healthy city is a place where neighborhoods and communities, each distinct and culturally contributive to the whole, share space in positive relation to one another – then Detroit has much to learn from a group like Fender Bender.
Fender Bender is a women and queer run bicycle collective in Detroit for cycling advocates, mechanics and bike enthusiasts. Founded in 2010 by Sarah Sidelko, Liz Pachaud, Vanessa Rojas and Amets, it is now run by Sidelko. After two years of hard work, she is growing the opportunities and programs of the collective.
Fender Bender’s physical space is a community bicycle shop located inside the Cass Corridor Commons, on Cass and Forest, a few blocks south of Wayne State University. Offering bicycle mechanic training classes, community bike rides, bicycle repair and maintenance services, Fender Bender runs an open shop where people can, under supervision if desired, work on their own bikes in an atmosphere that is supportive and nurturing.
Since its inception, Fender Bender has served over 200 people on a lean budget. Sidelko attributes this to creating a safe space -- “a place where people are able to be entirely themselves -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” She continues, “Conflicts and disagreements are not discouraged, but the way they are approached is important. When a misunderstanding happens, people are encouraged to pause and reflect, and then research and present thoughtful arguments.”
With a svelte frame and an open, inviting face, Sidelko speaks passionately about creating spaces with a culture of non-prejudice, learning and growth. Her goal is to have these spaces “demonstrated and experienced as commonly as other environments.” She believes that the sexism that can exist in male-dominated arenas (including bike shops) does a lot to discourage people interested in learning. Through providing a space that supports “a more unilateral power structure where everyone is on the same level,” Sidelko says more people are able to access the bike culture.
At 29, Sidelko has lived rich experiences in her journey to running Fender Bender. Born in Detroit, she grew up around bicycles, riding and helping her father repair. She was part of the founding group of the community bike shop, Back Alley Bikes (now known as The Hub), where she worked for a time. In 2003-4, Sidelko took a series of pivotal trips that shaped her convictions about how bike shops should be operated. Her wanderlust took her west to Tucson by biodiesel bus, and east to Syracuse by hitchhiking and hopping trains. For her most important trip, she cycled 350 miles down the coast of California.
During each of these journeys, Sidelko visited numerous community bike shops in different cities. “When you travel, your markers are things you are comfortable with. You look for your own culture.” Sometimes she would volunteer at these bike shops, learning the business of running a bike cooperative. From her experience at Back Alley, she knew about the struggle to sustain such a venture, and she hoped to bring lessons of success back to Detroit.
Sidelko’s travel experiences proved educational in other ways. Though comfortable with minor repair, she did not have mechanical expertise – and her long ride through California brought this need to the fore. While she was able to rig up quick fixes, she felt inadequately equipped. This led her to become more proficient in bicycle repair and eager to share this sense of empowerment with others.
She also credits her study of bikes to exposing her to many other interests that have now become central to who she is. She began welding and creating bicycle art, she worked as a master brewer for the local Motor City Brewing Works. This connection between bicycles and a wider world of experiences is what Sidelko hopes to share with people who visit Fender Bender.
With Sidelko’s leadership, Fender Bender is able to introduce more people to bikes, and more. “The bicycle is a tool of transformation,” she says. “It can be used to address inequity around race, class and culture – all pressing issues in Detroit. By working within a social and environmental justice framework, we can prioritize accessibility to those who have the least stability and access.”

Portrait by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

Share this page
Signup for Email Alerts

Twitter Feed

Related People

  • Kelli Kavanaugh
    Kelli Kavanaugh is co-director of the 5,000-person-and-growing annual bike ride Tour de Troit (TdT), as well as co-owner of of retail bicycle shop Wheelhouse Detroit. She believes that non-motorized transportation is the future of the Motor City.

Related Resources

  • Allied Media Projects
    Allied Media Projects cultivates media strategies for a more just and creative world. From the unique intersection of media and communications, art, technology, education and social justice, AMP shares and develop models for transforming ourselves and our communities.

  • East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC)
    EMEAC is an Environmental Justice organization based in the city of Detroit, Michigan.Their goal is to advocate for optimum environments for all life in terms of air, land, water, food and basic human rights.