bikes
Photo: Quinn Norton / Wikimedia Commons

Two doors down from the Neighborhood Bike Works office on 39th Street and Lancaster Avenue, the organization recently opened a used bicycle shop.

Neighborhood Bike Works is a West Philadelphia nonprofit that aims to empower youth through cycling initiatives and programming, and all the profits accrued from their bike shop go directly back into the youth programming. Many of their programs are staffed by volunteers, including some Penn and Drexel University students. 

One of the biggest programs they run for young Philadelphians is the Earn-A-Bike program. 

“They’re not given a bicycle. Over an eight-week period, they have to learn how to take apart, put together their bicycle, do the maintenance on it, and at the end of the eight weeks, they graduate and actually get to keep the bike they worked on,” NBW Board of Directors Treasurer Ty Tessitore said. He added that some of the young people who have participated in the program have gone on to join the NBW team as staff members. 

NBW Executive Director Steve Maluk stressed the importance of empowering under-served youth through teaching self-reliance and independence.

“Hopefully we can teach [bike repair] without touching the tools ourselves,” Maluk said. “They’ll be able to explore their own city and fix their bikes themselves if there’s a problem. We get stories of youth fixing their parents' bikes. The youth in our program can be a resource to their friends and family.”

NBW also organizes bike rides in which adults and youth in the programming get together with other Philadelphia cyclists to bond over cycling.

“There is the youth, the staff, the board members, lots of volunteers and individuals who contributed. It’s a great way to get the cross section of Philadelphia together, and getting people excited,” Tessitore said. “When you talk to people, it has nothing to do with your demographic background, but about your shared interest in cycling.”

Maluk added that these cycling programs cut across social boundaries. “It’s important to us that we’re working with mostly African American youth who can discover a piece of the biking community that they can reinvent for themselves and their friends and family,” he said.

Most of the bicycles in the retail shop come from individual donations, Maluk said. As NBW fixes them up and resells them, the refurbished bicycles become value-added products.

Tessitore said one of the long-term goals of the retail shop is for those refurbished bikes to become a stable and “significant contributor of funding for our NBW programs,” in addition to the more volatile funding they’re currently receiving from foundations, endowments and individuals who believe in the NBW mission.

The Wharton Community Consultants group recently tasked a team of five first-year MBA students with helping NBW market their retail bike shop as serving the NBW mission.

Blair Gillespie, a member of the MBA student team, spoke about NBW’s mission. She previously lived in Amsterdam, where biking is central to city life, and she identified a need to increase the accessibility of cycling in order to make American biking culture more inclusive and ubiquitous. 

“The more people on bikes the better it is for everyone," she said. "The more that people know that their peers and people they’re close to do it, the more likely they are to adapt that behavior.”

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