Bicycling has become more popular in America’s cities but is still out of reach for many of those who struggle to make ends meet. One non-profit, DreamBikes, is tackling many the problems of poverty, transportation and skills training in the Wisconsin cities of Milwaukee and Madison. While teens learn new job and mechanical skills from repairing bicycles, local residents benefit from access to low priced and healthy form of transportation.
DreamBikes started when John Burke, president of Trek Bicycle Company, suggested the idea and then donated the seed money to open the first DreamBikes shop in Madison four years ago. A year later in 2009, the store and repair facility sold 1400 bicycles, meeting the needs of more residents in Wisconsin’s capital.
Last month another DreamBikes location opened in Milwaukee. The partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County hires teenagers between 14 and 18 who are enrolled in a local skills training program. In turn the 6600 square foot facility offers a variety of opportunities to youths who would otherwise struggle gaining meaningful work experience. In addition to bicycle repair and maintenance, teens working at DramBikes learn computer software applications, customer service and sales. The refurbished bicycles, in turn, are sold to local residents at an affordable price. A micro-finance program is also available so that the bicycles are even easier to budget.
While the teen workers learn everything about bicycles and how to refurbish them, volunteers keep DreamBikes’ locations humming. The volunteers strip bicycles for parts, organize bicycle components and also evaluate and clean unwanted bicycles as they trickle in. DreamBikes’ largest challenge for now is maintaining a steady pipeline of bicycle donations. In order to meet local demand in Milwaukee’s neighborhoods, DreamBikes ideally needs about 300 used and wanted bicycles to enter its doors monthly. The teenage workers make slightly more than the federal minimum wage. Once the bikes on which they had worked are ready for sale to the public, they are priced anywhere for $20 for a basic children’s bike to $2000 for top-of-the-line racing bicycles.
DreamBikes is a leading example of how social enterprise can build communities at many levels. Such companies like Trek find a seamless way to partner with the local community that allows them to shine by offering the company’s core competencies and expertise to local residents. Locals have a low cost means to expand their transportation options. And the actual workers score job skills that will pay off in the long run. And if more people hop on bicycles, reduced pollution is a benefit, too.
Burke and Trek are hardly finished. Plans are underway to build more DreamBikes locations in Tulsa, Omaha, Chicago and Buffalo. While many cities, such as Los Angeles, are home to non-profits that help bicyclists with their repairs and maintenance, DreamBikes is a smart model that hopefully will scale and expand into other American cities and towns.
Photo courtesy DreamBikes.