Neighborhood Bike Works is no ordinary bike shop. If you can even call it a bike shop. A much better description is “community center, bike shop and philanthropic-outreach organization all rolled into one”—and it’s awesome.
What other bike shop do you know of that has a philosophy? The people at NBW live and breathe the idea that bikes equal empowerment. Youth empowerment, that is. And what better way to share the love than by helping kids from Philadelphia’s rougher neighborhoods build and repair their own bikes.
NBW’s popular program, Earn-A-Bike, teaches youth ages eight to 18 to build bikes out of old, donated parts over a 15-session course, with the hopes of giving the kids newfound independence via their new two-wheelers once they’re done. “What we’re doing is giving kids the opportunity to ride bikes and experience the joy of exploring the city,” says Erin DeCou, executive director of NBW. “The goal is to inspire kids to build confidence and have healthy lifestyles.”
If the helping-others outlook isn’t enough to make you enamored with this organization (really? What’s wrong with you?), here’s another reason: At NBW, you can score a cheap bike, too. With the sticker shock that often accompanies bike shopping, the unheard of low prices at NBW are more than awesome.
I didn’t know much about NBW’s philanthropic roots when I lived in West Philly last summer. I only knew about the organization because I’d heard that it sold bikes for cheap. As a student needing to travel several miles to work each day, I really needed a cheap bike. So I headed over to St. Mary’s Church at the edge of Penn’s campus, one of NBW’s three locations. By the end of day, and after a few hours of some good ol’ fashioned elbow grease, I rode off with a fully functional, fully trustworthy bike that got me through the summer—and then some.
Here’s what I learned: First, Neighborhood Bike Works is an absolute biker’s Mecca. Second, you should know that there is a strong culture of bike enthusiasts that exists in this city and that many of them hang out at NBW. These volunteer facilitators, as they are called, are beyond knowledgeable about bike repair and are happy to help you fix one up. A word of warning: There is usually something slightly off about the bikes that require fix-up, but getting them moving again is all part of the process. And speaking from firsthand experience, it can be a lot of fun, too.
If you want to buy your bike from NBW, go to an NBW location during normal hours (you’ll want to look up Adult Repair Co-Ops times), choose a used bike from one of the hundreds they have on-site, take the bike into the on-site repair shop, roll up your sleeves and get ready to get dirty. The bike may require a new part or two, like a chain or pedal, all of which can be found in the shop. Remember, volunteers will be on-site to help you learn how to fix your new bike up, so no prior bike-repair knowledge is needed.
And here’s an added bonus: You can feel good about spending cash here. All the proceeds benefits youth education programs like Earn-A-Bike. God, I love this place.
For those who would rather pass on the manual labor but still want a cheap bike, NBW’s North Philadelphia location is a full-service repair shop and also sells working used bikes. Be sure to check out the NBW website for additional program offerings.
Locations: West Philadelphia, 3916 Locust Walk; North Philadelphia, 1424-26 West Susquehanna Ave; South Philadelphia, 508 South Fifth Street.