A Belfast ‘Bike Pit’ has been established to help motorcycle enthusiasts with mental health issues get their bikes back on the road and their owners into a better frame of mind. Created by 47-year-old Bobby Guiney and 31-year-old Chris Donnelly, the Bikes and Minds charity was originally operated out of their own garage but has since grown into a much larger organization.
While Guiney and Donnelly originally helped friends repair their own bikes, they soon realized that doing so was having a profoundly positive effect on the owners’ mental health after one customer made a massive improvement during the process.
“Halfway down the line Chris sort of clicked on, we helped that fella there. We got a couple of thanks and that’s where it all sort of started from,” Guiney told BelfastLive. “He was quite lonely and hadn’t left his house in a long time but he was a different person after it. Once he got out on a few runs a week and started chatting to people, he was smiling and stuff again. I thought, ‘Sh*t, I didn’t realize how bad he was.’ It was nice.”
“That’s why when you come in here, everything that you can use is free. The only thing that’s charged for is the tea, coffee and Coke.”
Since then, more people began turning up at the Belfast Bike Pit in hopes of enlisting Guiney and Donnelly’s help to fix their own bikes and the pair realized they had something pretty special on their hands.
“It started happening more regularly. Then we started having people up who we didn’t even know who they were—a friend of a friend—and we noticed we got a few people out of a few ruts,” Donnelly recalled. “We helped them get their bikes up and going and got them back out on charity runs and socializing again.”
From there, Guiney and Donnelly founded the Bikes and Minds charity so they could further widen the impact on their community. To do so, they moved to new premises that opened in June and have already helped dozens of Belfast residents.
“We just sort of thought we need to do something to help them. It sounds corny, but we feel that we were lucky to be able to do it,” Guiney said. “This is what the biking community is all about—
helping. We are here to help anybody who comes in through that door.”
He added that the atmosphere of the Bike Pit is an overwhelmingly positive one where motorcycle owners can pop in to have a fun, relaxed time with their fellow bike lovers.
“About 10 to 15 people would come regularly—it’s like a kindergarten. You come in and leave your stresses and worries at the front door, just banter, sleg, have a bit of craic. Everybody is up for it, everybody is game and I think because it’s so open to all that, those people coming in do relax very quickly,” he explained.
He added: “There’s no hidden agenda, no behind the door. Whatever you are here for we are here to help. The point of the place is a DIY garage. We will pitch in and help you if you want, but we don’t just fix your bike and all your problems are gone. You muck in and you’ll hopefully get something from doing that as well as having a fixed bike. You’re getting a bit of self-satisfaction at having achieved something.”
Guiney and Donnelly said that the Belfast Bike Pit isn’t just settling for fixing bikes. They have big ideas for other ways they might help more vulnerable members of the Belfast community like running a safety and maintenance course. They even want to get women involved in the Bike Pit.
“For young ones who like the scramblers we are thinking of running a safety and maintenance course for their bikes to show them how to respect the vehicles and how to maintain them,” Bobby said. “We still need to look into that.”
“We said they can come down and use it – that’s what it’s all about!” he added of the women’s groups who have reached out in hopes of a collaboration. “We are not just a place for men. We are a place for anybody who can get a benefit out of it. That’s why when you come in here, everything that you can use is free. The only thing that’s charged for is the tea, coffee, and Coke.”