North Central: Local Bike Shop Services Community Needs

A pink bike sits off to the side at the Neighborhood Bike Works in North Central, ready for purchase.
A pink bike sits off to the side at the Neighborhood Bike Works in North Central, ready for purchase.

Bikes of various sizes–all used–sit neatly in a row to the right of the front door.

The bikes have price tags on them–some priced as low as $13 and some as high as $400. Bike tires hang loosely on hooks above the bikes for sale. Also for sale are used bicycle parts that are kept right behind the cash register. Wrenches, nuts and bolts rest in tool boxes that line the green walls. And a small staff of bike repairmen wait, ready to offer any and all assistance.

Neighborhood Bike Works North Philadelphia, located at 1424-26 W. Susquehanna Ave., is a fully operational bike repair shop. From Monday through Saturday local bikers can come in to check out the collection of used bikes, have their bike repaired or just ask general questions about biking.

North Central resident Ronald Green, 55, said he makes visiting this bike shop part of his daily cycling routine whether it’s to just pump up a tire or to inquire about brake pads..

“Every time I need some help I come right here. They treat me [well]. They try to help me the best they can. I love coming in here because they got a lot of stuff I can use too. It keeps my bike running because I’ve been riding my bike since 1975,” Green said. “Before I go anywhere else, I’ll stop here first.”

A client comes to pick up his son's serviced bike.

But NBW is not just a repair shop. The money raised through repairs and sales help fund a  much greater purpose. NBW made its way to North Central in 2009 with a mission to use biking as a way to increase opportunities for youth in under-served communities.

From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, NBW holds “Earn-a-Bike” classes — which are lessons set-up to teach local youth about bike repair, bike riding safety plus the health and environmental benefits of biking. If the children complete all the necessary courses, they earn their very own bike. In collaboration with the after-school program at Tree House Books –located next door — NBW also hosts “Writing and Wrenching” on Mondays and Wednesdays. Children in that program split their afternoons up between NBW and the Tree House. And Fridays are drop-in days, repair time dedicated especially for graduates of the “Earn-a-Bike” classes. Hours spent here can earn bike owners upgrades and improvements for their bikes.

“We just try to give [the people in the communities] a lot of programs and opportunities to get out on their bikes and ride,” said Kitty Heite, an executive director at NBW.

NBW has three other locations around Philadelphia and one in suburban Norristown, all offering similar programs that get members of the surrounding communities off their soles and onto bike seats. NBW has pursued its mission for 10 years with the shop in North Central being NBW’s latest expansion.

A young man works on his bike using the free tools at the NBW.

“We also do off-site classes so we can come to churches, schools or community centers and do classes. So when we have a neighborhood that just keeps asking us to come back then it starts to seem like maybe this neighborhood really could support an actual new location,” Heite said. “So we were looking for a spot here in North [Philadelphia] for a while because we did keep getting asked to come do things up here.”

The amount of traffic into the shop during the late afternoon hours along with dedicated daily patrons, like Green, showed a definite need for local bike services.

Breanna Datesman, 20, a secretary at NBW, said, “I think [this shop] is really necessary [in North Central]. It’s good to have a place where kids can go to stay out of trouble and always turn to if they need something. And just [the message of] getting around on bikes, I think that’s a good overall message with the environment and everything. It helps [the people in the community] get around. It’s cheaper.”


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