Tucked away on a small residential street in West Philadelphia, Haddington’s Neighborhood Bike Works shop is easy to miss. If it were not for the front tire and handlebars of a bike protruding from the wall above the door of the workshop, the average passerby might mistake it as an extension of the car garage located next door.
Neighborhood Bike Works’ impact on the community, however, is anything but concealed. Regardless of the time of day, people of all ages can be seen pedaling the streets of the neighborhood. A walk down 60th Street some days reveals more porches with bicycles on them than without.
Inside the shop on 230 N. Salford St., a scene of nearly a dozen children pumping tires and loosening chains helps explain the popularity of bikes in the community.
The kids are participating in a semi-weekly Earn-A-Bike session, the flagship program of Neighborhood Bike Works.
Established in 1996 by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Neighborhood Bike Works became a non-profit organization dedicated to youth development through bicycle-related activities in 1999.
The non-profit operates out of one location in North Philadelphia, one location in South Philadelphia and two locations in West Philadelphia, sharing a culture of cycling in each area it occupies.
Haddington fell under this distinction in 2002, when a Neighborhood Bike Works shop was opened at 60th and Vine streets. In 2009, the neighborhood office picked up roots and moved around the corner to its larger, current location, said Haddington Site Manager Mustafa Abdul-Rashid.
With three rooms on two different levels, the shop on Salford Street can hold 20 people in addition to numerous parts, tools and bikes, said volunteer Joshua Case.
Abdul-Rashid, who has been with the organization for its duration in Haddington, said his position with Neighborhood Bike Works helps him pass on opportunities he was never given when he was young. Specifically, a knowledge of safe cycling.
“When I was younger, I used to ride my BMX bike all around and I didn’t wear a helmet,” Abdul-Rashid said. “And now I see the importance of wearing a helmet and I see the importance of having a bike in good condition and passing on the skills that you do know and giving another person an opportunity.”
As site manager, Abdul-Rashid oversees the programs offered by the Haddington Neighborhood Bike Works shop, which include Earn-A-Bike, Drop-In Sessions, Adult Co-Op Repairs and Group Rides.
When discussing the programs he coordinates, Abdul-Rashid stresses a “hands-on approach.” However, as demonstrated by the several children in the shop attending to their bikes with great proficiency and little-to-no assistance, this hands-on approach tends to lead to hands-off results.
Fittingly, the skills acquired by the programs youth participants are part of a cycle.
That cycle begins with the eight-week Earn-A-Bike session.
Throughout the eight weeks of the program, a group of 10 to 15 children, ages 8 to 17, refurbish old and dismantled bikes which have been donated to Neighborhood Bike Works by local bike shops or the community, Abdul-Rashid said.
Every Tuesday and Thursday during the session, Abdul-Rashid teaches the children how to properly repair and maintain their bikes. When children complete their bicycles, safe riding is incorporated into the lessons.
Most sessions include a visit from a licensed doctor to talk with the participants about nutrition, Abdul-Rashid said.
Upon graduation from Earn-A-Bike, participants become official members of Neighborhood Bike Works. Graduates are invited to return to the bike shop to join the racing team, participate in group rides or attend Drop-In Sessions in which they earn credit to put toward bike parts for every hour they spend tuning up their bicycles.
Some highly skilled graduates volunteer to help newcomers to the Haddington shop. Neighborhood Bike Works compensates these children with more than organizational credit, Abdul-Rashid said.
In a community with many bike riders, Neighborhood Bike Works is an invaluable resource.
Neighborhood Bike Works graduate Dehquan Reid said not only is it useful to have a repair center nearby, but many riders could also benefit from the safety instruction.
Reid speaks from experience, as he was once hit by two cars in the span of one month.
Case, who now volunteers at Haddington’s Neighborhood Bike Works shop after completing the Earn-A-Bike program, said he feels the non-profit gives kids from an area with a reputation for violence a place to go and things to do.
“To this day, if I didn’t have this program, I still wouldn’t have anything to do, I wouldn’t be a bike mechanic right no,” said Case.
For some, a combination of activity and productivity is the formula for enjoyment.
“I have fun fixing things. When I know that I can solve a problem, it’s fun,” said Reid.
These benefits may be in jeopardy.
During a phone call, Program Director Liz Pisarczyk said there have been discussions of closing the Haddington site.
Abdul-Rashid said these discussions are just the result of Haddington’s shop undergoing a transition period.
He said he is hopeful the Haddington Neighborhood Bike Works will be moved to a larger area where the shop can broaden its programs, rather than eradicating them.
“I can’t see bike works going anywhere,” Abdul-Rashid said. “The community loves us, they need us. And we have a lot of love for the community as well.”