Whether you’re looking for a souped-up mountain bike with 100 mm of gushy front suspension, a cruiser with a bell shaped like a narwhal or a well-loved pair of saddle bags to carry groceries, you can probably find it at Old Spokes Home in Burlington.
Yes, the nonprofit bike shop offers an eclectic mix of bikes and gear at accessible prices, as well as heavily discounted stock for income-qualifying Vermonters, but the heart of the shop is in its mission to nurture community.
“We know the bike, as simple as it is, has the power to transform,” both individual lives and communities, executive director Jon Copans said. “That’s it, that’s our mission: We believe in the power of the bicycle, and we want to make sure that anyone who wants a bike can get a bike, because the more people who are on bikes, the better off our communities are.”
That goes for physical health, for the environment, for connecting socially and engaging with community and for giving people a tool for independence, he said.
That’s especially important for folks like those living directly around their shop, as nearly 30 percent of households in the Old North End do not have a car. “A bike is a really great solution because it’s available on your schedule, it’s really affordable and it’s a versatile and robust vehicle.”
One of their core programs, Everybody Bikes, attempts to address socioeconomic barriers to biking and mobility by providing used gear and repairs at up to half price. Since the program kicked off in 2005, they have helped with over 10,000 repairs and given over 5,000 bikes to Vermonters who qualify based on income, whether they’re getting SNAP benefits or Medicaid, or if they have a referral, among a host of other qualifiers.
Another way Old Spokes hopes to get everyone riding is through community programming.
They partner with Spectrum on a youth girls program every Friday teaching kids about bikes in the store’s workshop; every Monday night volunteers gather to help with repairs; this summer is packed with programming and registration for fall programming is coming up; and the last Wednesday of every month, they host a community ride called the sunset cruise.
“It’s not what some people would refer to as a hammer fest,” Copans said — think 30 miles in 20 minutes with a bunch of people wearing Lycra. It’s a 10-mile social ride, with cruising and connecting as the main agenda items. “We host that because it’s fun, and we want to be social and to connect with our customers and anybody who’s enthusiastic about biking, but we also host and structure it that way because we want it to really be inclusive for anyone who wants to ride. That ride in part can help people build confidence getting out there.”
Just show up at 5:30 p.m. and bring some wheels.