Every summer a quiet, wonderful little program is run on the banks of the East River, overlooking a serene view of Upper MidTown. Hidden away in a former meat packing plant, Recycle-A-Bicycle teaches New York Inner City youths how to repair bikes, but only if you look at the shallowest level of what they are really doing. Read on for the deeper meaning...
Recycle-A-Bicycle does exactly what their name implies. The organization accepts donated new and used bikes and bike parts. They then apply elbow grease and trained mechanics to output finished serviceable, affordable bikes. Along the way they recruit and train bicycle mechanics from literally all walks of life, ages and genders. But their most successful programs are those aimed at Junior High to High School aged mechanics.
We visited their Long Island City repair facility and interviewed three of their teenage mechanics, Darcell Swinton—John Brown High School, Natalie Feliciano—University Neighborhood High School, and Duade Lassiter from Queens Preparatory Academy. All three of them came to the Summer Mechanic Training Program by separate paths.
Duade's Mom found out about the program on the internet and said, "DJ you should try it out!"
Natalie found out about the program through the Summer Youth Job Fair and since she loves building stuff, and taking things apart, it seemed like a good fit.
Darcell's teen program advisor turned him onto the program and his lifelong interest in riding and bikes sealed the deal.
The seven week summer program prepares these very enthusiastic kids for real jobs in bike shops, if that is what they choose. But, more importantly, it instills in them a palpable sense of personal accomplishment. The way it works is simple. They show up... get a whole lot of hands on experience... then they build and repair bikes, learning as they go, all under the watchful eye of Larise, one of Recycle-A-Bicycle's staff mechanics, The teens build up about three bikes each for sale through the company store, but more importantly they build a very real sense of pride and accomplishment. If you were to have been at the event you would have seen the pride and excitement on their faces as they showed off their bikes. The bikes are sold at a retail sale organized by the kids themselves. They are tasked with organizing the sale in order to augment their mechanic skills with valuable retail experience. This year seven of the ten bikes the kids built were sold in one day.
Along the way the hard work of these budding mechanics is compensated by the fact that "Extra Hours" can be accumulated to allow them to purchase their own bike. But the real compensation comes in their response to my question...
How do you feel about what you did all summer?
Duade: "Happy! This is very positive—totally worth it!"
A good experience.
Do you feel like you learned anything?
All: Nah! Of course not! (They can be kidders)
What was the hardest thing you learned?
Cables, You know putting the cables inside the housing. I didn't know how to put the cable through the housing, so it took me a while to learn how to do it.
But you got it?
Felice: For me prob'ly how to overhaul head sets. It took me a while to get it (embarrassed laugh), Yeah, puttin the parts back together. Loose bearings, bearings in retainers."
Darcell: Prolly adjusting the drive chain and the derrailleur, getting that right so the chain won't come off. It was very difficult.
This is a pretty clean shop, you guys don't even look all that greased up. Are you workin' on these bikes?
All: No we're Slackin' (much laughter)
Are you planning on getting a job repairing bikes?
Duade: Not me, I love to draw.
Felice: I would like to get a job doing this in the next few years.
So do you think this is pretty good experience, being able to go out to a bike shop and say, Hey! Do you think you can do that, are you confident enough?
Duade: Yeah, yeah!
Darcell: I wanna get a job doin' this! It's good stuff. Definitely!