Bike build connects bicycle community

Dan Murphy, a volunteer, concentrates as he checks the balance on the back wheel of one of the bikes he is helping build Sunday at First Unitarian Church.

Sufyaan Brown wielded a hex wrench with a bit too much enthusiasm, taking a bicycle handlebar screw all the way out, instead of just loosening it while helping to assemble a bright-blue Fuji at Sunday's Cadence Community Bike Build in Center City.

No big deal. He quickly got the screw back in.

The 14-year-old was at the event in the basement of the First Unitarian Church to help Neighborhood Bike Works - a West Philadelphia nonprofit that has nurtured his love of biking - assemble its share of 62 bikes donated by Advanced Sports International, a Northeast Philadelphia distributor.

While tightening the screws after he got the handlebars in the right position, Brown said he wants to make a living working with bikes some day. "It doesn't have to be as a mechanic," the West Philadelphia resident said.

Neighborhood Bike Works, which received seven bikes, was one of four organizations that benefited from the second annual "bike build" organized by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

The others were Philly Pumptrack, a BMX track near the Mann Center in the Parkside section of West Philadelphia; Gearing Up, which introduces biking to women in transition from abuse, addiction, and/or incarceration; and Cadence Youth Cycling, which last year organized eight cycling teams at Philadelphia high schools.

"These four organizations have a lot of fans and supporters. It's a lot of fun to bring them all together," said Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition.

An enthusiastic crowd of more than 100 volunteers jammed into the basement of the First Unitarian at Chestnut and Van Pelt Streets on what would have been a fabulous morning to be outside riding.

The volunteers, many of them experienced mechanics who needed just 20 to 30 minutes to assemble and fine-tune a bike, finished in just two hours.

The bikes ranged from 16-inch BMXer a four-year-old will ride around the sharp curves at Philly Pumptrack to racing bikes that cost $800 and up for teenagers on Cadence Youth Cycling race teams, which received 35 bikes.

Among the volunteers was Peter Cisick, a financial planner from Skippack who said he worked as a bike mechanic in high school and college and has probably assembled 5,000 bikes in his lifetime.

"I'll go anywhere to build a bike for any organization," he said, while adjusting the rear brakes on a BMXer for Philly Pumptrack, which received 10 bikes Sunday.

Graham Robb, a Mount Airy resident helping build bikes for Gearing Up, said he has seen how meaningful biking can be to the women in Gearing Up. That group received 10 bikes Sunday and is slated to get 30 or 40 more this spring for women who graduate from the program and earn a bike after they log 150 miles.

At first, Robb didn't get it, but on his first ride, one of the participants told him that rides were the best part of her week because her recovery program didn't allow her to get out much.

That sold him. "Now I ride once a week," he said.

Adiva Andrews, 15, was teamed with Sufyaan Brown to build bikes for Neighborhood Bike Works. She said she is learning not just bike maintenance but also public speaking and leadership - and understands the difference a bike can make.

When she rides around her neighborhood, "I feel like that's my only freedom," she said.

hbrubaker@phillynews.com

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@InqBrubaker