Here’s How Bicycles Build Community in a New Haven Garage

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Moving to a new area can be intimidating, especially for an entrepreneur seeking community support.

When John Martin moved to New Haven in January 2014, though, he quickly realized his family joined a neighborhood shrouded in encouragement.

In 2015, the 29-year-old met Joel LaChance and Paul Hammer, a bicycle shop owner and bike mechanic, respectively. A shared interest in bicycling forged a new bond between the three, and Martin soon began managing a bicycle cooperative in the East Rock neighborhood to bring community access to the activity.

That summer, Martin opened the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op at 138 Bradley St. in a garage owned by his father. Formal business hours, however, began in November that year.

Bikers fixing, learning, volunteering and chilling at the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op.

Bikers fixin’, learnin’, volunteerin’ and chillin’ at the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op.

After growing up in Westbrook and graduating with an architecture degree in Boston, Martin stayed in the capital city for nine years working as an architect. He enjoyed his time in Massachusetts, but said his experience in the Elm City has been special.

“New Haven has been incredible,” Martin said. “I love Boston, but New Haven has been spectacular. Everyone is interested in each other. Everyone wants to make New Haven a better place. I’ve certainly been a recipient of that.”

Since its launch, the co-op has grown into a space where biking enthusiasts learn how to service their bikes and purchase affordable equipment. Bikes are usually listed from $200 to $300, and revenue from sales helps fund the co-op.

Co-op memberships are available for $10 per day, $30 for three months, or annual use for $100. Martin said the co-op serves 60 regular members and has serviced 325 bikes since November 2015. About 230 bikes were serviced in 2016, and the group has repaired another 50 since January.

Community thrives at the co-op.

Community thrives at the co-op.

Martin is now transitioning a social impact initiative called BEEEP! (Bicycle Education, Entrepreneurship and Enrichment Programs) into the co-op. The program, which was created by LaChance and Hammer, recycles materials, sells, fixes and donates bikes, and offers repair training to low-income populations who use biking as a primary form of transportation.

“We have a real belief in getting adult bikes to people who need them—largely for jobs,” Martin said. “A bike is often a really quick, easy way to make their lives much easier.”

Many local partners have spawned since hearing about Martin’s co-op. The New Haven Police Department and Yale Sustainability are among many organizations that have donated bikes to the space. Those bikes then often end up belonging to individuals served by Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services and the Connecticut Mental Health Center.

Several volunteers assist Martin instruct members on how to fix their bikes, and mechanics are also on hand to amend complicated repairs.

Bikes bikes bikes.

Bikes bikes bikes.

One of those volunteers is Karl Borne. Martin and Borne met after the co-op’s grand opening, and Martin welcomed the mechanic and competitive cyclist to open a high-end custom bike studio in the facility. Borne operates the studio, True Cyclery, on weekdays from noon to 7 p.m. He also volunteers during the co-op’s open hours from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday.

Martin has high goals for the young co-op as it involves, including repairing between 300 to 400 bikes in 2017. With continued community support, he’s confident the space can continue producing meaningful collaborations.

“Sometimes I’m blown away by the power of New Haven,” he said. “It’s been really special watching people get excited about volunteering or learning something new. I think this year will be really great, and hopefully confirming of some of our hopes and dreams.”

Images courtesy of John Martin.

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