After-School Program Teaches Teens How to Fix, ‘Earn a Bike’

    31 May 2022

    At Phoenix Bikes, a non-profit bicycle shop and educational center, students are learning their ABCs. That stands for the air, brakes, and chain of basic bike mechanics.

    Phoenix Bikes sells bikes to the public at their business in Arlington, Virginia. But it also teaches teenagers how to repair bikes.

    Most students at Phoenix start in its after-school "earn-a-bike program," at middle and high schools in and around Arlington County. Once a week over a 12 week period, students learn repair skills. They learn how to use tools, fix flat tires, align the wheels, and adjust brakes and gears. The first lesson involves taking the bike apart, or stripping it down to its basic structure, the frame. By doing this, they learn all the parts of a bike.

    Anthony Jimenez-Galindo with his finished bike outside the Phoenix Bikes store. (Dan Novak/VOA)
    Anthony Jimenez-Galindo with his finished bike outside the Phoenix Bikes store. (Dan Novak/VOA)

    In the first weeks, they work in small groups to repair a bike donated to the shop. The bikes often have missing or damaged parts.

    The finished bike is then given to a person in need from the community. Phoenix Bikes director Emily Gage said the shop partners with several local organizations to donate the bikes. Some bikes have been going to Afghan refugees resettled in the area.

    In the last four weeks of the program, students come to the shop to work on one of the donated bikes which they can then take home at no cost.

    Anthony Jimenez-Galindo is a student at nearby Wakefield High School. He just completed his bike. He said it was not in good shape at first but was the kind of bike he was looking for and could be made into something better. He said it had no brakes, no front tire, and was without a chain or a cassette, which controls the gears.

    "It was junky but it looked nice, that's really my only reason behind it. It was a very nice looking bike and... I was willing to go the extra mile to fix it."

    Jimenez-Galindo said he joined the program to get better at working with his hands and fixing things.

    "And also because I wanted to learn how to actually repair and fix a bike. And so far I'm learning pretty good."

    Wakefield student Owen Spiegel talked about what went into fixing his bike, as he put his finishing touches on it.

    "Well first when I started the bike I wanted to test, see how everything worked. So first I wanted to see how the brakes worked— brakes were not working at first.

    Other than that, first I went and put pedals on so I could test the gears and the gears seem to be working all fine. Then putting on the brakes—that was the hardest part. I had to completely reattach this brake and then I had to set this brake up so that, you know, it would actually work."

    Phoenix Bikes is teaching 300 to 400 young people this year. Phoenix communications coordinator Emily Rippy said the classes are fun and let students learn with their hands after sitting in the classroom all day at school. Gage added that bikes are interesting for teenagers especially because they are a means of transportation and freedom. Learning how to fix a bike can also be a fun challenge, she said.

    "It's complex enough to be challenging and to feel really worthwhile when they understand the skills, but simple enough that a teenager can learn. So it's just kind of the right level of challenge."

    Some students who finish the 12-week program go on to a higher-level bike mechanics class. Some race bikes for the shop's racing team. And others stay to volunteer at the store and fix more bikes to give away. Phoenix's current shop manager, Noe Cuadra, was an earn-a-bike student in high school. Other full-time Phoenix workers also went through the earn-a-bike program.

    Jimenez-Galindo said he hopes to return to the shop to fix bikes for the community and continue to learn.

    What is his favorite part of the experience?

    "Just, the joy, the satisfaction that I get after it's done. That now it's fully complete, and it's actually a bike instead of what was a husk of one."

    I'm Dan Novak.

    Dan Novak wrote this story for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    teenager n a young person between ages 12 and 19

    adjust –v. to change something in a minor way to make it work better

    align — v. to change something so that it matches, fits or is in line with something else

    gear n. a wheel in a machine that has teeth

    frame n. the basic supporting structure of something

    challenge –n. a test of strength or skill, a difficult task to do

    husk n. the outside of something that has had its insides removed