2023 Youth Bike Shop Apprenticeship: introducing multicultural youth to bikes as opportunities

On August 10th we hosted a small but meaningful graduation ceremony for the participants of  our 2023 Youth Bike Shop Apprenticeship Program. This program, a long-standing partnership with Spectrum Youth and Family Services, is at the core of our Old Spokes Home mission.

Evan, Kate and crew on the Winooski River Bridge along the Island Line Trail.

I’m Evan, program staffer at Old Spokes Home and one of the apprentices’ instructors. I was thoroughly impressed each day by the energy, enthusiasm, and progress of this year’s apprentices. It was the first time that many of them turned a wrench, and to see them grow their abilities was inspiring. By the end of the program, they were able to accurately diagnose issues and perform appropriate repairs — a set of skills that is more complicated than it sounds but can be invaluable.

Kate and crew work together to assess a bike at the Riverside Apartments (left); the apprentices then worked together to solve problems on their own (right).

Most of the first week was spent learning the basics, slowly working up to performing professional-grade check-overs and beginning refurbs of the group’s own new rides. The process of taking something old, rusty, and unusable , and turning it into something new and functional brings a special meaning to the work we do. Through the difficult, and often never-ending, process of restoring their old bikes, the group realized the value and transferable nature of the skills they were learning. Aaron, initially apprehensive about the rusted Trek Multitrack chassis we selected for him. Aaron persevered and ended up turning it into a classic Old Spokes Home build, complete with leather grips and some beastly knobby tires.

Aaron's bike may have needed some serious work, but he was proud of the outcome.

After completely restoring their own bikes, the following weeks kept us busy with beautiful riding weather, bike repairs for friends and family, and deploying the Mobile Repair Unit (MRU) to several apartment complexes and parks around town. After our first couple rides, the group decided that we needed more ways to bring stuff with us on our bikes. It was back to the workshop for customizations. Rahim opted for a sporty double bottle-cage setup, with one in the standard position on the seat tube, and another hanging from the underside of his downtube. His rig is looking ready for some speedy cross-country adventures!


Rahim riding his freshly-refurbished mountain bike.

Mamy and Alisha, cruising around on two of Old Spokes Home’s classic commuter bikes, the Jamis Commuter and the KHS Urban Express, decided that they were in need of some serious storage space. They both mounted front baskets, problem solving with custom fittings, and painted them to match their bikes’ respective styles.

Mamy and Alisha were fast friends, both deciding to kit out their bikes with baskets and rear cargo racks.

Mateo and Jasper were rocking their matching pair of Nishiki all-terrain bikes, which needed less work than some of the other projects. They supplemented their time by becoming the group authorities on flat-fixes and brake adjusts. Armed with knowledge and skills, they taught other members of the group and solved problems on their own while running the MRU.

Jasper and Matteo can be seen riding their matching bikes, displaying their matching silly attitudes.

Aside from MRU visits, our trips took us to various parks, paths, rivers, and views…and sometimes to ice cream. On these days, the many hills of Burlington would waver in and out of our favor, but the group’s spirits and drive endured. Group favorite spots were the Lakeview descent to the waterfront bike path and the many wooded trails around the southern end of the Spear Street Bike path and Ferrell Park. We enjoyed tossing frisbees at Oakledge, listening for birds at the mouth of the Winooski, and playing “Foot-down”, a game where riders compete in a confined area to stay up on their bike the longest, whenever we got the chance. 

Some of our apprentices made their very first trip to Oakledge Park and even just to the Burlington Waterfront, all thanks to bikes.

This program, their new skills, and bikes they refurbished themselves brought each and every one of our apprentices to places they had never been and granted them experiences they had never before had. Each participant was compensated for their time and the services they provided for their community, suggesting that being a bicycle mechanic is a real and viable career. Such are some of the numerous powers of bikes: to move farther, freer, faster; to explore one’s surroundings near and far; to access fulfillment and opportunity. 

We are sad to say goodbye to this year’s group of apprentices as they all head back to school this fall. We look forward to seeing them back at Old Spokes Home soon; our doors will always be open for them to drop into a session of Youth Shop, turn a wrench at a Monday Volunteer Night, or just stop in to say hi.

We owe many thanks to the Richard Tom Foundation for making the 2023 Youth Bike Shop Apprenticeship Program possible by way of their generous grant.