Erin Wolf

Exercising Ideals

By - May 1st, 2008 02:52 pm
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“Give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”

Dave Casillas, of the newly founded Echo Base Collective, is not only familiar with this proverb; he is actively trying to live by it. “People don’t appreciate what they have. They’ve got cars, but don’t treat their cars with respect; they don’t drive respectfully. Bike riders, too. They should stop at stop signs instead of plowing through them.”

This motivated 23-year-old isn’t merely preaching Utopianism. Echo Base Collective (Milwaukee’s second bike collective – the other is at 2910 W. Clybourn Street) is located in the industrial environs of Walker’s Point, between Milwaukee’s Third Ward and Bay View. It’s an exercise in idealism, but with the proper pushes from the right people, it could become a place where anyone can not only find a bicycle to get them out of doors and into a more active lifestyle, but also learn how to maintain their own bikes and help build bikes for others.

Casillas’ motivation comes from his own volunteer experiences and via a cross-country biking expedition that introduced him to collectives on the west coast. He was impressed with what he encountered there. “In Portland, there are four different free bike programs. [In Milwaukee] I’ve gone through the hard work of finding the space and providing the ability to create something. It’s up to everyone else to own up to the fact that they can better their community and own lives.”


The collective, a bare-bones space for the moment, houses over 50 bicycles, both kids’ and adults’, mostly donated by The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee and salvaged from Casillas’ own scouting for discarded bikes. They hang from racks on the wall of the collective, ready to be worked on; many wait in storage. The trick is to find enough people to pitch in and make them all working machines.

“I’m very motivated, more so than most people,” Casillas says of his mindset towards his collective. “When someone says, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll totally help you,’ I would have to go to their house, wake them up, drag them out and probably dress them just to get them to come down. I’m really looking for people who are motivated enough to take their own initiative.”

“[The other collectives I’ve worked in before] have already been established for two or three years,” explains Casillas. “Starting out is the hardest part – it’s as grassroots as you get. I need teachers, people who just want to sweep the floor – anything – even to sort through all these tires. I want to create an environment where you can just enjoy the company of other people.”


This is the bottom line from which Casillas is building the foundation of the collective:
enjoying the company of others and developing mutual respect through hard work. “I pretty much started Echo Base as a facility to put a bike between every pair of legs – as long as you’re willing to go through the effort of putting it together, knowing how [a bike] works [in order to] have a higher appreciation of it.”

In his past experience with bike collectives, Casillas has watched people who were both physically and socially inactive become fit, knowledgeable and concerned about the world beyond their door. “I’m trying to increase people’s motivation to tread a little lighter and be a little more conscious of everything they’re doing. Breaking it down into the basic elements of a bicycle [is what I want to do].” Philosophically, it’s about respecting one’s self and others and living by one’s values.

Casillas knows that this self-respect can be instilled at an early age, which is why he wants to work with Milwaukee’s youth to make sure that they not only have a bicycle to call their own, but that they also appreciate where it came from and know how to maintain it themselves. “One of the main elements of this collective is to work with kids, because if anyone’s really going to have problems in the future, it’s them.”

He cites not only the negative social influence but also the unprecedentedly sedentary lifestyles of a young generation raised on TV, video games and computer access. The heartfelt belief that Echo Base’s work can make a difference is his driving motivation, but affecting meaningful change in the long run holds inherent challenges. In the case of the Echo Base Collective, the immediate need is for volunteers.

“I want to start a program where we give kids bikes, but right now, we don’t have the manpower. We have about 30 kids’ bikes. They need to be checked over from point zero to point one hundred. I want to have workshops with kids, but since we’re low on volunteers, it’s going to have to be kids bringing in their own bikes to have them fixed with their parents.”


Once Casillas has the manpower to get the bikes rolling and volunteers to teach maintenance and do maintenance, there will be ‘free’ bikes available to kids. The only stipulations: “They’ll need to have a helmet, a lock, a light and a parent to say it’s okay.”

Echo Base is far from being just a glimmer in Casillas’ eye. It’s an actual building. The building has actual bicycles. There is some real funding from Casillas’ own pocket from his job as a cook and from fundraisers put together by local musicians and traveling musicians. Now it’s time for the actual community step in.

“People don’t know what it is I’m really trying to do here,” Casillas mentions of Echo Bases’ part-time alter-ego as venue for the aforementioned concert fundraisers. “People [come in and] see 20 bikes on the wall, and don’t know what they’re there for.” Casillas wants to see the collective work in the Milwaukee community because, from his travels, he knows that such things are not just idealistic fantasies, but realities. He believes that each individual in our community can greatly benefit from volunteering just a little time and effort.

“Volunteering helps a person understand and respect themselves a little more than they think it will. And there’s a higher enjoyment of life when you respect yourself.” VS

Echo Base Collective is located at 830 S. Barclay Street. To volunteer time and/or learn how to build a bicycle or help build bicycles for your community, e-mail Donations of bicycle parts, bicycles and tools are also needed and appreciated. For more information, visit

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