In a warehouse strung up with Christmas lights, John Martin is drinking coffee, listening to Drake and doing surgery. His tools are blunt—wrenches and cables and steel nuts—but his patients aren’t exactly sensitive.

Martin is the founder and owner of the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op, a bike-fixing and -selling nonprofit that rode into town in 2015 and, in the simplest terms, aims “just to get more people on bikes.” It began when Martin became friends with Paul Hammer and Joel LaChance, who were running BEEEP! (Bicycle Education, Entrepreneurship and Enrichment Programs) out of LaChance’s barn. BEEEP! moved into the space on Bradley, which Martin co-owns with his father, and as the agenda expanded, the Co-op was born.

sponsored by

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

It has three main components. Two of them, the used bike shop and the bicycle recycling program, are “tied together,” Martin says. “We get bikes donated to us from people’s basements, from institutions, other bike programs and shops and we fix ’em up and sell some of them.” That raises funds and provides a side pool of working bikes that can be given to the needy. Many of those recipients are clients of Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services or Connecticut Mental Health Center, who might be immobile without these wheels.

“Mayor Toni Harp has been quoted as saying that transportation is a human rights issue, a civil rights issue, and we think that’s exactly right,” Martin says. Bicycling is “empowering, freeing. You can suddenly move efficiently through a city, which is something we need for economic stability, sanity, time management and for happiness.” He quotes figures from a Sierra Club report, which contrasts the average annual cost of operating a car—$8,220—with a bike—$308—and calls it “shocking.”

Selling and donating bicycles is only part of the equation, however, and that’s where the third major element of the Co-op comes in: open hours where cyclists and budding bike mechanics can come in and learn how to maintain and repair their vehicles. The shop is open to members—who’ve paid $10 for the day, $30 for three months or $100 for the year—on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m., providing tools, parts and professional help for their projects. Those range from the specific (“flat tire fixes, fender installations”) to the curious (“let’s fix this weird noise that keeps happening”) to the ambitious (“building a bike from scratch”).

The Co-op has bins of parts they’ve reclaimed from donated bikes—stacks of seats, jumbles of handlebars, spools of brake cables—ready to be reused. While Martin says he’s seen his share of doomed cycles, it’s rare that someone wheels an unsolvable bike into the Co-op. “Unless a frame is severely damaged…it’s not a hopeless case. Everything else is just parts,” he says. “We’ve brought a lot of bikes back from the dead.”

This afternoon, Martin is working on two bikes, the first of which, in Eeyore gray, is a shell of its former self, wheel-less with sagging cables and a chain that hangs dejectedly to the ground. “A customer brought this bike in… and wants to make it work. It’s gonna be a big project,” Martin says, bringing my attention to the “shark teeth” on the crank set, which are apparently supposed to be rounded. “We’re gonna make this thing work, for starters. We’re not gonna make it perfect.”

The other bike looks like it’s faring better, with a husky, neon-green frame and most of its parts intact. Not so fast, Martin says: “It has a whole host of problems, although it may not look like it.” It’s a cheaper bike, and, lamenting a corner-cutting sales strategy he says goes against the Co-op’s ideals, he suspects it was designed to be “ridden into the ground” and quickly replaced.

The Co-op is also meant to serve as a social hub for the city’s cycling community. Along with open hours, it offers yoga classes and monthly “shop talks,” a small-scale, informal lecture series that’s touched on everything from New Haven real estate to archival work in Yale’s galleries to the greatness of Drake, the last of which was, of course, delivered by Martin.

The community events, in addition to the Co-op’s other programs, have created a space “where people can meet each other and make friends of all colors, from all neighborhoods, from all parts of the city,” Martin says. “I think in New Haven, and in a lot of cities, bikes answer a lot of questions and fix a lot of problems.”

So it’s nice to have people fixing them in turn.

Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op
138 Bradley St, New Haven (map)
Member Hours: Tues-Thurs 4-7pm

Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

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