The program was started in 2000 by employees of Detroit Summer, a “youth program / movement to respirit, redefine and reimagine Detroit from the ground up.” The original purpose was to provide transportation to youth participants who were working on anything from planting gardens and to painting murals all over the city. Today this non-profit organization has grown into so much more offering holiday bike giveaways, adult repair classes, youth education workshops and countless other volunteer-based programs.
Back Alley Bikes is funded partially by its retail shop the Hub of Detroit, a full-service bicycle shop servicing the Cass Corridor and greater Detroit. The Hub’s profits, along with grants from Michigan’s Tri- County Bicycle Association, are put toward multi-generational educational programs and youth outreach.
One of their newest programs is for adult volunteers. Volunteer nights are on Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 8. After completing 20 hours here, participants are eligible to become “Allies.” In exchange for four hours of volunteer work a week, Back Alley Bikes gives Allies free access to tools and bike parts. For those unfamiliar with bicycle mechanics, there is an eight-week course called “Learn-a-Bike” that covers the basic how-to of bike repair and construction.
In reaching out toward Detroit youth, Back Alley Bikes and the Detroit Bike Hub have put on “Earn-a-Bike” sessions where young people age 8 to 16 are able to pick a bicycle to take home after three sessions of building and repairing it. This summer the program is being held on Thursday and Saturday afternoons.
For children too young to work at the shop, there are several annual holiday bike giveaways. “We just held a kid’s bike giveaway,” says Jack VanDyke, who started volunteering at Back Alley Bikes in 2005, “It was held the weekend of July 4th and the final count was 123 bikes.”
Back Alley Bikes and the Hub of Detroit are located at 3611 Cass Ave. near Martin Luther King Blvd. For more information on programs and volunteer opportunities, visit www.thehubofdetroit.org.