The Free Hot Coffee Bike project was created by John D. Freyer in partnership with the Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP) at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2016. We have used the bike on campus and have brought the bike around the country partnering with CRP's at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Penn State, UVA and events in New York City. In 2018 we partnered with Tate Exchange at Tate Modern in London to launch the UK edition of the Free Hot Coffee bike for the first CRP in the UK at Teesside University which is based in part on the VCU CRP model.
We've made 10 Editions of Recovery Roast Coffee and have helped build more than 10 Free Hot Coffee Bikes around the world.
“That was the missing piece.”
For the last several years, Photography + Film associate professor John Freyer and members of Rams in Recovery, VCU’s collegiate recovery program, have been riding around campus on a custom-built cherry-red bicycle, outfitted with a pour-over coffee maker. In the five minutes it takes them to brew a cup of coffee, they share their experiences with addiction in hopes of helping others better understand substance use and recovery.
Last fall, Rams in Recovery and the city of Richmond received an AmeriCorps grant to jointly address issues related to the opioid crisis. That’s when Freyer and other members saw an opportunity to use that same five minutes to train people to use naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose.
“Whenever we would bring the coffee bike to a naloxone training, it created a natural bridge, a natural break,” Freyer says. “It gave people enough time to, while they’re waiting, get trained on naloxone.”
Freyer says naloxone is a classic harm reduction strategy for preventing deaths among people who are at risk of overdosing. Putting naloxone in the hands of first responders is an obvious step, but Freyer says the real impact is when friends and family members are trained to use the life-saving medication.
Members of Rams in Recovery have trained and distributed doses to more than 1,000 VCU students, faculty and staff members. But communities across the city were harder to reach. So, Freyer designed a new bike: this time a teal electric-assist bicycle equipped with a lockbox, table and a CPR mannequin.
“It’s a beautiful object. Like the coffee bike, it commands a certain level of attention,” he says. “Whenever I ride it, people ask, ‘What is naloxone?’ It creates space for conversation, but the purpose of that conversation is to do the training.”
Freyer is also part of a new statewide grant from the governor’s office to bring his recovery-related social practice art projects—including the Free Naloxone Bike—to eight Virginia universities as they develop and broaden their on-campus recovery communities.
While the impact of Free Naloxone Bike is real and tangible, it marks a firm deviation from Freyer’s initial social practice projects, where he served glasses of water and hosted community meals in hopes of sparking organic conversation about addiction and recovery. In this latest iteration, community outreach and advocacy is the work.
“It’s important to break bread together, and it’s important to be in conversation together,” he says. “But having people leave with the ability to save a life—to me, in some ways, that was the missing piece.”