Nicholas Desystemizer has always been a “Bike Person,” no matter where he lived. He describes his journey before life in Ithaca: “From the tangled hills of the Missouri Ozarks, the vast deserts of southern Arizona, and the aging urban canyons of 1980s Saint Louis, a terminus of the rust belt.”
After finishing school Nicholas wandered across the country by bicycle for about four years: “Connected to and disconnected from everything: I was out in the open. I was kind of a ghost haunting the world, observing everything, but from outside. I just kind of went in whatever direction it seemed I should go.” Missing the company of an old friend who studied at Cornell, he paused in Ithaca in 2000.
“I found a job, met a girlfriend, and made more friends…But then, a fateful event. Not long after I arrived in Ithaca, my bike was stolen. I now know this is a sort of tragic initiation ritual for newcomers to Ithaca,” he laughs. “Several people urged me to ‘Go to RIBs!”
Since first opening the door to Recycle Ithaca’s Bicycles, Nicholas has been a participant, a volunteer and a staff member there.
“There’s something about a place you can go, where money isn’t the price of belonging, only interest, and where there’s not really a limit to the knowledge or the exploration,” Desystemizer said. “As long as bikes are what you’re interested in, this is a college, a dojo, a library, a museum, where everyone is welcome and invited and there’s always something to do.”
When asked what else he does these days, his pause was long. “I spend time with friends, and DJ a night each month or so at Sacred Root Kava (post-punk, new-wave). But most of my energy goes into RIBs.”
Like many innovative programs operating on a shoestring budget, RIBs, incorporated independently, has had ups and downs. Twenty years ago, the Southside Community Center adopted RIBs. Four years ago, when RIBs had been dormant for some time, SCC approached Nicholas and a friend, Greg Rothman, to revive RIBs. Nicholas, who had been on sabbatical from the program for a while, became its director. And revive the program he has. It’s been open and thriving consistently since 2016, when he and Greg took over. (Greg stepped back in 2018 to pursue farming full-time at Indian Creek.)
RIBs is one of the oldest community bike shops in the U.S, and now, more than ever, having a bike shop which is accessible to all community members is essential. With COVID-19 related restrictions limiting our activities, people are looking for ways to take a break and exercise safely at a distance from others. Concerns about riding in cars and taxis lead some people to begin biking to shop or work. With programs like Way2Go, more and more people are considering alternatives to cars to protect the environment, and for the enhancement of healthy bodies through exercise. With the expansion of an integrated network of trails from Trumansburg to Stewart Park and from South Hill toward Caroline, we can get our kids on bikes and explore, stopping at Farmers’ Market or Cass Park, when social isolation is safe.
Fans of RIBs are impressed that Nicholas knows everything about bikes, and he’s happy to teach others what they need to know to fix them. Once social isolation can be modified, RIBs’ “Open Shop,” will resume, and people can bring their bikes, put them up in a workstand, and tinker as needed.
“It always seemed straightforward, how ideal bikes were as a device,” Desystemizer said. “Of all the machines I was introduced to early on, the bicycle stood out. It’s like a compact between modern humans and the planet.”
Even during the time of COVID-19 you can still see available bikes for sale, consult and request a repair with Nicholas, buy parts, and savor the quirky, orderly cache of RIBs, our Community Bike Shop. Check out RIBs at 530 West Buffalo St. in Ithaca. This week RIBs is open on Saturday and Sundays 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., and on Tuesday and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Check the website to stay up on enhanced offerings and more open hours. Strict social distancing is required and bring a mask while you peruse one of the oldest community-run bike shops in our country.