PRESCOTT - Every summer, local bicycle advocate Sue Knaup scours the community for old bikes that have seen better days.
Rusty surfaces, broken gears, bad shocks - the problems with the bikes that she finds are numerous. In fact, it seems, the more problems, the better.
That is because Knaup, as the instructor for Prescott College's course, "The Bicycle: Vehicle for Social Change," uses the old bikes as tools to teach students not only bicycle mechanics, but also how those bikes can help others.
Under Knaup's instruction, the students work for months to retool the old bikes. At the end of the semester, they give their refurbished bike to someone who needs it for transportation.
"At the end, they're not the junkers anymore; they're beautiful," Knaup said of the overhauled mountain and road bikes.
Ultimately turning those rejuvenated bikes over to people who are unable to drive a car for a number of reasons, Knaup said, is empowering for both parties.
"Having that focus on a bicycle and giving it to somebody in need - that really brings it down to the heart," Knaup said.
The "social change" in the course is not limited to individuals. It also extends to the community as a whole. Knaup said one of the goals of the course is to teach the students how to improve the bicycle-accessibility of their community.
Next month, that effort will take on an international focus, when Knaup and several of her students plan to travel to two of the world's hubs of the bicycle-friendliness: Amsterdam and Seville, Spain.
The first leg of the trip will take the group to Amsterdam, where Knaup said 50 percent of all trips are taken on bicycle rather than in automobiles. The Prescott contingent will meet with representatives of Fietsersbond, an organization that has worked for decades to solve bicycling issues in the Netherlands.
Knaup said the goal of the visit is to give the Prescott College students insights into bringing Amsterdam's techniques home to Prescott.
"In Prescott, if you ride a bike, people think you're crazy. And in Amsterdam, if you drive a car, people think you're crazy," Knaup said, adding that the question for the students will be "How did that happen?"
After gleaning information from the Netherlands, Knaup and the students will travel to Seville, where Knaup said bicycle accessibility has improved dramatically in recent years.
The Prescott group will attend the international Velo-city conference in Seville and meet officials and bicycle advocates from around the world.
Prescott College senior Taylor Kuyk-White is among the students hoping to take the trip. She said the exposure to an active "bicycle culture" would be invaluable to her studies in social justice.
"I'm interested in the community dynamics around this sort of thing," Kuyk-White said Friday afternoon during a break from refurbishing her bike for the course. "I see the bicycle as a tool for justice."
Fellow Prescott College senior Karajane Cournoyer also emphasized the potential for improving the community, referring to bicycling efforts as "empowering individually and collectively, so people can work more as a community, and better themselves."
Cournoyer said she is excited to be among professionals who work on such issues regularly. "Mainly, I think it's an amazing opportunity to talk with bicycle advocates," she said, adding that the trip would expose her to people who "understand the approach to getting public support (for bicycling)."
Knaup pointed out that the group is still working to raise money to take the trip, and some of the students' participation will depend on their success in fundraising.
One such fundraising effort will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Raven Café, 142 N. Cortez St. The "City to Velo-city" event will feature a silent auction, raffle, and beer specials, with proceeds going to the travel scholarships.
Knaup, who travels frequently in her role as executive director of the international bicycle advocacy organization One Street, says the late-March trip would allow the students to learn from the experts and "bring back the latest and greatest" to Prescott.
Information on how to donate to the trip scholarships is available online at www.onestreet.org, under the "City to Velo-city" category, or by calling 928-541-9841. Contributions should go to One Street, P.O. Box 3309, Prescott, AZ 86302. Donors should note the trip on their contributions.