Traveling Bike Repair Gears Up for Summer Season on Milwaukee's South Side
Community group Layton Boulevard West Neighborshoped to create a bike repair shop. When the spot LBWN selected fell through, organizers did not want to lose momentum. So, the Mobile Bike Hub was born.
Well-known volunteer in the Menomonee Valley, Michael Krajewski put his welding know-how to work to create the three-wheeled wonder. (Krajewski has worked at Falk Corporation in the Valley for than four decades.)
Starting in the summer of 2013, Jorian Giorno tooled around the Silver City, Burnham and Layton Parks’ neighborhood mending tires and replacing gears.
In the off season, the repair shop on wheels lives inside a former factory on Pierce Street. Project coordinator Giorno’s work space there is little more than a couple of industrial-strength shelves mounted to the wall.
Giorno rings the mobile hub’s distinctive bell.
“What’s really cool is about midsummer I noticed people stopped thinking I was selling ice cream or food and they actually recognized that sound and this vehicle fixing bikes,” he says.
Giorno opens the large storage bin that straddles its back wheels.
“This front compartment, miscellaneous stuff and some patch kits I give to the kids. The battery goes in there as well, because this is really heavy,” he says.
It weighs over 300 pounds when fully loaded. So the battery powers a motor that can give Giorno a break from pedaling under the hot summer sun.
“That really helps in the up hills, that’s the place I use it the most,” he says.
Giorno learned to repair bikes from his dad, who used to be a professional bike racer. As he began to work the LBWN streets, he noticed neighborhood kids catching the bike repair bug.
“Throughout the summer (2013) I ended up getting all in all about 8 boys – I taught them how to change tubes or change flats,” Giorno says.
Last spring, he took teaching to a new level.
Giorno offered a nine-week course for high schoolers in the neighborhood. He says some had tinkered on bikes and just needed a tweaking on their techniques.
“You know at home you use a screwdriver to take your tire off, but the screwdriver can puncture the tube. Teaching them the right tools," Giorno says. "But then there are other kids who are not very experienced, who are catching on really quickly, like Diana, she doesn’t have much bike mechanical experience."
High school junior Diana Guiterrez says she came in with zero experience. But she is fearless. She was the only female among the recruits and admitted she last climbed on a bike when she was really little.
“I’m open to anything new, anything. I work pretty good, I learn pretty quick,” Guiterrez says.
Last summer, Giorno selected two of his graduates - one being Guiterrez - as paid interns. Together they worked the mobile hub across the neighborhood.
Giorno says Guiterrez handled intake when families and kids queued up at the Mobile Bike Hub.
“She was really the community point of contact and she did a really great job of it, she’s really outgoing and passionate about helping people,” he says.
The other summer intern was Gabe Manzanet. He says Giorno taught him bike repair skills, then connected him to another learning opportunity.
“Jorian got me into a program at the Boys and Girls Club. It’s over in Sherman Park – way out there. And we would do a complete overhaul of the bikes, just kind of deconstruct and reconstruct it,” Manzanet says.
Today, Manzanet is into phase two – working after school at a shop called DreamBikes. He’s fixing a small boy’s two wheeler.
“Apparently he fell, you can see there’s an abrasion here. It’s a bit messed up, but nothing too major,” he says.
Manzanet says the Layton Boulevard West program has been a life-changer. Before jumping in, he spent much of his time inside and not socializing. Today, he navigates his neighborhood comfortably.
“I know what roads to take now and I know which streets have the best bike lanes in them and which don’t – because there are a lot of them. I know which roads to take now,” Manzanet says.
And he knows neighbors and they know him, especially people whose bikes he fixed.
“Oh man, I would actually see some of them around my neighborhood and they’d say 'hey bike dude!' and I’d say what’s up,” Manzanet says.
In fall, he will head off to college to study electrical engineering. But this summer, the 'bike dude' will work alongside Jorian Giorno one last season.
Giorno says the Mobile Bike Hub has become more than a demonstration of the art of repair. “This has evolved into more of a community building, community outreach tool,” Giorno says.
The Mobile Bike Hub is among the programs being considered for a Milwaukee Awards for Neighborhood Development Innovation, MANDI, that will be announced later this month.