Second Cycle: Building Community Two Wheels at a Time
When you walk through the bright yellow facade of Second Cycle on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in the Hilltop neighborhood, you are greeted with stacks of used bicycles for sale, a wall of milk crates neatly labeled with words like “Grips,” “Chain Rings,” and “Training Wheels.”
Next to the bins is a narrow space reserved for new and used bike helmets on one side, and on the other is a rack filled with a multitude of bike frame forks. Upon closer inspection, you can see that most of these bicycle parts have been well loved. They’ve been around the block a bit. You get the sense that each tiny pedal, each shifter, each kickstand has a story to tell.
For Noah Struthers, founding member and the executive director, Second Cycle is more than just a used bike shop or a place to drop in to get a replacement part. And it’s more than just a charity to donate old and outgrown bikes. It’s a social experiment.
“We’re building communities with the bicycle,” Struthers said. “This is different than just a bike shop. It’s a community building thing.”
Second Cycle is a non-profit organization that identifies its mission to demystify and normalize cycling as a part of everyday life. They execute this mission two-fold—one by providing the space, supplies and knowledge for helping people learn how to fix their bikes and second, as a tool for community engagement and empowerment.
Second Cycle started out as a group of friends meeting in a backyard, sharing beers, stories and their love of fixing bicycles. As they grew, they were able to move a couple years later to a storage unit behind Le-Le Restaurant just a block from their current location. Soon they had gathered enough tools, resources and parts that they were able to move into their present-day location.
As Second Cycle was growing in both size and local interest, they took notice of the number of kids who would constantly visit their shop. “The kids just kept on showing up,” Struthers said. They wanted to learn how to use the tools and how to fix their bikes. Drawing inspiration from similar projects around Seattle and beyond, they decided to begin using their knowledge and expertise to establish themselves as a vital community resource for local youth.
One of the more successful programs is the Earn-A-Bike program. It’s a six-week bicycle repair and maintenance program that they offer 3 times a year to anyone in the community who is interested. The program is $75 dollars and meets for 2.5 hours Tuesday afternoon. Scholarships are available on a sliding scale to those who qualify.
“The kids basically build a bike from the frame up,” Struthers said. “One week they’ll be working on wheels and one week they’ll be working on brakes and then gears and cranks. They learn all the many systems that make up a bike and then get to take it home when it’s all fixed up.”
In 2016, Second Cycle expanded their youth programming to iDEA High School in South Tacoma. iDEA High School, an industrial design high school part of Tacoma Public Schools, has incorporated Second Cycle’s bike maintenance programming into both credit course work as well as after school activities. Students have the opportunity to learn about the bicycle mechanics, as well as safe handling and road safety skills.
In the Summer of 2016, Second Cycle began to work with the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative of Pierce County. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, JDAI is a comprehensive system reform initiative that seeks to reduce unnecessary use of secure detention, reduce racial and ethnic disparities, redirect resources to more efficient and effective forms of supervision, improve conditions within secure detention facilities, all while continuing to ensure public safety. In this program, youth offenders are allowed to stay out of detention facilities by participating in community service type programs.
In this case, JDAI participants spend time at Second Cycle learning about cycling concepts, navigating city streets safely as well as shop operations like sorting parts and stripping bikes for parts. The partnership with JDAI aims to give youth access to a positive, safe and healthy community by introducing them to the world of recreational cycling and active transportation. The program is rooted in research indicating that youth respond far better to rewards and incentives for positive behavior than to the threat of punishment for misbehavior.
However, if social justice isn’t what you’re after and all you want to do is work on your bike, the cost for access to the tools and space will run you $10 per hour. For an extra five dollars an hour you can get the occasional mechanical expertise of the full-time staff members each with years of mechanical and cycling knowledge.
The folks at Second Cycle are well aware that for many people, their bike is not just recreation, it’s their only means of transportation. That means that their prices can be on a sliding scale. “People experiencing homelessness, low-income, kids in the neighborhood, can all get access to the tools, knowledge and resources on a pay-what-they-can or sometimes free basis,” Noah said.
Everybody has their reasons for using a bicycle. For Struthers, the bicycle has been many things in the various stages of his life. It’s been his sole source of transportation at times. It’s been a source of recreation and inspiration. But it’s also been the only thing he can rely on when he really needs it. And he hopes that he can inspire you to feel the same.
“Just get up and ride your bike. If you can’t do anything just get up and ride a bike. If you’re feeling depressed and lonely, you can always get on your bike and ride it,” Struthers said. “It’s been my inspiration. My go-to to get me through things.”
Bicycle donations are always appreciated. If you have a bicycle sitting around in your garage not being used, Second Cycle will be more than happy to take it off your hands. Monetary donations also go a long way to expanding their community programs and to offering more classes to youths and beginners alike. For more information please visit 2ndcycle.org.
Photos by Jason Kriess