Ted Thomas: Teaching Kids Tools for Life
What's the Bike Hut? The Bike Hut is a nonprofit bike shop that teaches children bike mechanics. We also do rentals and sales of used bikes, and we do repairs for people in the neighborhood.
You teach kids how to be bike mechanics? We teach them shop standards; we teach them how to build a bike from the ground up. They go through a five- to six-day program. In that time, they learn how to put a bike together from scratch. They can either then build their own bike from the parts at the shop, or they can have the bike that they have built during those past days.
Does it cost them anything to go through this program? No. We are able, most of the time, to get grants to be able to pay for the kids' time to be here. The money that we make from sales and rentals goes to help provide parts to the kids for free.
How old are the kids? Basically [from the time] they can pick up a wrench to about 16, when they can start getting summer jobs. We've actually placed a couple of our kids in shops around town as mechanic apprentices. We've had kids in the program who have come around here as young as six and seven.
How do you find people to participate? We have done some recruitment in the past out on Treasure Island and in this neighborhood because some of the buildings across the street from us are low-income housing, and in Hunter's Point. Basically, once kids find out that they can earn a bike, the word spreads pretty quickly and kids show up.
How many people work at the Bike Hut? Right now there are two of us that are full-time, and we've got about nine to twelve people who stop by on a regular basis for a day or two here and there and help out as they can. We've got a few of our kids, who even though they have gone through the program and gotten their bikes, still come back from time to time looking to spend the day doing some work around here and hanging out. Because we also provide a safe space. Kids from someplace where it's not that safe can come here and hang out for the day, and it's a place where they can be and not get harassed.
What's most gratifying about doing this kind of work? The knowledge that they'll be able to go from here and, at least on a mechanical level, they'll be able to deal with the things that are around them. I understand that a lot of these kids, when they turn 16 or 17, they're going to be wanting cars. But I also realize that if they're faced with a problem, like a hot water tank bursts, or something happens that can be solved by a tool, they will have some experience holding a tool and knowing what to do with it.
Do you think their experience here might open the door to the possibility of using a bike for transportation instead of a car? Definitely. There's kids that, if they see a bike, will now be able to say, "Oh, I can go across town on that."
What kind of bike do you ride? At current, I own 10 bikes. I believe in "horses for courses"-I have a bike for playing bicycle polo; I have a tandem for my girlfriend and myself; I've got a cargo bike; I've got a Bridgestone XO-3 that is my [stylish] riding-in-the-park-on-Sundays, my wipe-it-off-with-a-silk-cloth bike. I also have a track bike.
Any hot tips for avoiding flats? Tire liners. And keep the tires inflated to the proper pressure.
Name Ted Thomas