Andre Garcia has set up buckets along popular bicycle riding routes that can turn a bad day for cyclists into at least a bearable one.
He calls the buckets “karma kits.” They include such items as tire tubes, patch kits, a pump, energy bars, bottled water and plastic trash bags that can serve as makeshift ponchos.
Cyclists who have a flat tire on the day they forgot to bring an extra tube or run into unexpected rain are in luck if they are near a karma kit. All Garcia asks is that they replace the items they take.
“The older kits are quite well used,” Garcia said. “They are more well-known.”
Garcia is a mechanic at Bicycle Works in Napa. He’s out on the road quite a bit himself, regularly cycling 20 to 50 miles.
He knows what it’s like to have a sudden cycling need. He rode from Napa to a location near Glen Ellen in Sonoma County in 2008 to watch the Tour of California. Wet weather hit and a friend gave him a garbage bag for protection.
Several years ago, his mother took a trip to the Northwest and learned about an initiative called Trail Magic. This consists of supply kits left for backpackers along the Pacific Rim Trail.
In 2009, he put out the first karma kit bucket at Dry Creek Road and the Oakville Grade. This is along the popular Mount Veeder loop favored by many cyclists.
He kept expanding the concept, adding karma kits to such location as at the entrance to Moore Creek Park near Lake Hennessey and attached to a pine tree at Clif Family Farm along Ink Grade Drive that winds from near Angwin into Pope Valley.
“There’s a lot of back country where there’s no cellphone reception,” Garcia said.
Today, there are 14 or so karma kits. Cyclists can find them attached to a tree at The Hess Collection winery on Redwood Road in the Mayacamas Mountains, near the intersection of Las Amigas and Duhig roads in the Carneros region, at Velo Vino Winery in St. Helena and at Baldacci Family Vineyards on Silverado Trail.
Each kit costs $150 to $200 – such items as a $20 pump and various tube sizes at $5 apiece add up. Garcia paid for two himself and sought out sponsors such as the Eagle Cycling Club, Whole Foods Market and local wineries.
Garcia checks on the karma kits two to four times a year. He sees evidence that they are being used and also evidence that people are replenishing the buckets, though he can’t say for certain how often this happens.
“It’s an imperfect system in that I’m trusting people to go back and replace items,” Garcia said.
A few people aren’t to be trusted. Someone stole a pump from one of the buckets. Garcia takes security measures such as using a cable to secure the pumps.
Garcia has benefited from the karma kits himself on occasion. He used the pump at one location to top off his tires with more air.
He hopes to keep spreading the idea. Skyline Wilderness Park and other locations could be the sites of future karma kits, he said.
“Overall, I think the system works pretty well,” Garcia said.