Fixing Bikes, Rain or Shine

Despite the constant drizzle and gloom for the bicycle repair day Augusts 9th at Westside Academy II, the Bike Fed’s Earn ‘n Learn employees from the Valid Bike Shop had their hands full wrenching. People from around the central Milwaukee neighborhood brought in bikes with all kinds of repair problems from the trivial to the unfixable.

Working on the bikes that day were the Bike Fed’s Earn ‘n Learn summer employees from the Valid Bike Shop in North Division High School.  As the Bike Fed’s Education Project Manager, I oversee our Earn ‘n Learn program for high school kids at Valid, where kids get paid minimum wage and learn bike repair and job readiness skills. At the Westside Academy’s neighborhood bicycle repair day, the kids from Valid worked on everything from brake cables to flat tires to bent rims.  They had bikes lined up by the door, waiting to be fixed at one of two impromptu work stations set up around a bucket of tools.

The young employees, eight in all, took turns working on bikes, always happy to point out a mistake made by one of their peers. The event was put together by Bryan, a counselor at Our Next Generation, a camp in the neighborhood.  This was the second year he asked Valid to help make a mobile shop.  “I like bikes, and I like working in the community,” was his motivation.  A lot of kids in the neighborhood had “fifth-generation” bikes.  They enjoyed riding them, but they needed a lot of work to be safe and dependable.  One kid just brought in a tire-less wheel he had been riding around on for a few weeks.  After inspecting the rim, which was still surprisingly smooth, the group threw on a new tire.

The customers, some kids, some adults, were all happy to have their bikes worked on. Not all problems could be fixed though.  Of the 15-20 people who brought their bikes in, only one or two were turned away with problems that needed more attention or tools that were not at the group’s disposal.  Our employees even brought a couple bikes from the Valid Bike Shop stock to repair and give away to a few of the standout kids in the Safe Routes to School program at Westside Academy.

One girl earned her new bike after riding 15 miles, despite very limited biking experience.  She squealed as her new bike was brought out to her, “I have a bike, but its training wheels are stuck on.  This one is great!” she said. Although fewer people showed up than expected, but considering the endless rain, it was a good showing.

Bikes were fixed, and a small crowd gathered to get out of the rain and watch the young mechanics show off their skills as they fixed the bikes. This was the last official day of summer employment for the kids from Valid.  It was nice to see their skills prove so useful as customer after customer left happy to have a fixed-up bike. As the number of bikes needing attention declined, the group was sent to the cafeteria to indulge in chicken sandwiches.  “Prepare to be fired at four o’clock,” I jokingly hollered after them as they left for food.  “Not if we quit at 3:59” they were quick to reply.

I told my group of kids that this was the best year yet in my six years of running the program. I was very pleased that I did not have to let anyone go and nobody quit, a Valid Bike Shop first! I think any business would concur that no-turnover is a rare thing when bringing on new employees, particularly when the pay is minimum wage. I am proud to say that one of this year’s employees, Javon, wants to continue to work on bikes and is putting in applications to bike shops around the city, hoping to get a job soon.

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