Southwest Rides Bike Shop Trains Young Detroit Mechanics

DETROIT—Happen to get a flat tire while bicycling through Southwest Detroit this summer? There’s no need walk all the way to the Hub on Cass Avenue to get it fixed. A quick hike up Springwells could take care of the problem. Though the Southwest side may be better known among cyclists for the bike lanes on West Vernor, the area is also home to its own seasonal bike shop, Southwest Rides.

Active in July and August, the shop is linked to a youth bike mechanic training program at the All Saints Neighborhood Center. Located at the corner of Longworth and Mullane, not far from Springwells, All Saints is run by a nonprofit community development organization called Urban Neighborhood Initiatives. It serves the surrounding Springwells Village neighborhood, a mostly Latino area with a high concentration of kids and teenagers.

More than 30 young people are involved with the bike program on any given day. A small garage in back of the neighborhood center serves as their shop and greasy training ground. Shop hours coincide with the time set aside for them to work on bikes, Mondays and Wednesdays between 2 and 6 p.m. and Saturdays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Mode Shift spoke with UNI Human Development Director Christine Bell about the bike program, the search for a new home for the shop and plans for a neighborhood bike park.

What goes on during a typical day with the bike program?

On Mondays and Wednesdays, we are heavily entrenched in Earn-A-Bike. Earn-A-Bike is an opportunity for young people to learn how to repair bikes and build a bike and put in sweat equity and work on a bike that will eventually become theirs after they put in a certain amount of hours.

On Saturdays there's not a designated time, but we have young people who are still putting in their sweat equity. In the interim, people can stop in and ask for repairs to be done.

What kind of skills do they learn?

How to fix a flat tire, how to fix pedals, chains, brakes. They learn about bike safety. We talk a lot about helmets and locking up your bike.

Tell us about the shop.

We haven’t yet had a bike that we’ve had to turn away. We’ll look at any bike, and we’ll be very honest about whether we can fix it or not. This summer, we've done repairs for the general public, and we’ve sold a couple bikes. People can come and buy things, supplies that they need, they can repair their bike, they can get a repair done or they could purchase a bike.

We hope in the next three years we’ll be sustainable. … The hope is that we’ll always have youth apprentices and eventually we’ll grow our own bike mechanics [and] shop managers. So when you link it back to unsubsidized youth employment, that’s the strategy to get there.

How do other Detroit shops figure into this training?

Last year, Antoine was a young person who was extremely interested in bikes and came to us through our apprenticeship program. He worked part-time at the shop. We also placed him at Wheelhouse. He spent his summer in between two places, and the goal of that was that he would then bring back the knowledge that he had gained. [He is] currently working under an expert in bike mechanics [who] also works at the Hub. He's training [Antoine], so eventually he can be a bike mechanic, which is what we hope to do with all the positions.

How did the program start?

Initially, the bike shop started in 2009. We had a gentleman that ... was helping kids to fix bikes at an empty lot somewhere else in the city. He was really interested in doing that here. He spearheaded a repair program, and we had a group of five young people that really really latched on to it and loved it. Eventually that volunteer had to move on. So I sat down with the young people. We talked about, and they said we want to keep this going.

What impact has the program had on the youth?

We’ve had a couple of kids that have learned how to repair tires and go and do it for their neighbors. I've watched the kids. I think it’s a sense of community while they're out there, but I think its also a place of individual pride. We also have these young ladies. They are learning how to do the exact same thing, and they’re working side-by-side together. Ultimately they have fun out there.

Tell us about plans to move Southwest Rides.

We were growing out of the garage and we knew that. We started looking [to] move the space. … We did [a] fundraiser. We had a space and unfortunately by the time the fundraiser was over the land lord had leased it out. We’re still in the midst of looking at what the possibilities are there. We’re getting close [to finding a new site]. … I would hope in the next six months.

Tell us about your plans for a bike park.

We have a whole system of parks that we’ve looked at and conceptually designed. One of those concepts is the old Beard Park. We have a conceptual design for a park there with soccer fields that also has [pump] tracks for bikes. Kids really want a skateboard park and a bike park here. If someone wants to give us money, I think we could set it off really quickly.

How has the neighborhood responded to the shop?

It's been good. You've got people that stop by that want to volunteer and help. You've got people that have immersed themselves with that much dedication. People just stop by and talk. It's always been really positive feedback, “We need this. There’s not a bike shop around. This is great.”

Help out

Those interested in supporting a bike/skateboard/soccer park in the Springwells Village neighborhood can send charitable donations earmarked “Bike Park” to Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, Inc. at 8300 Longworth, Detroit, MI 48209. The project will cost an estimated $500,000, due to soil remediation, parking and other associated costs.

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