Shah Mohamed: Brickworks Bike Works

Brickworks Bike Works
Evergreen program plants seeds of bike mechanics with kids

Story by Leila Kent photo by Jamie Rosenthal

~ This article is from our current Youth and Employment Issue (Summer 2012) ~

Leaning his bike against the outside wall, Shah Mohamed ducks under the ascending garage door of the shop. “Sorry, it’s a bit messy! We just had a school group in yesterday.” A pile of helmets is in danger of cascading off a large work table, while bikes are suspended from the high ceilings like a miniature airplane hangar (or, well, really any standard bike shop). The Evergreen Brickworks Bike Works program is a hub for bike education and more.

Mohamed, program manager of Bike Works and Green City Cycles at Evergreen, is friendly and direct – the kind of person who looks you straight in the eye when he speaks to you. Speak he does, and eloquently, giving background on the space and the thinking behind it. The purpose of Bike Works is to teach safety and mechanical skills. They have a bike fleet, four tool benches and a tool library, along with new and used parts. School programs are offered during the week. On weekends and holidays during summer months, members of the public can rent bikes.

Mohamed doesn’t do everything – the shop is staffed by a mechanic and trained volunteers – but so far he has been the driving force envisioning and articulating the way the space functions. His excitement and optimism is infectious and his reflections on youth programming are inspired, but never cute.

When asked how long he’s been into bikes, Mohamed’s eyebrows rise, as though the question makes no sense. He has to think for a moment. “I’ve been biking for… ages. When I was eight years old, I got my first BMX bike. I started doing mechanics on it when things went wrong – actually, before things went wrong,” he says.

“I grew up around Lawrence and Bathurst – the area known as ‘The Jungle’ – and then moved to Jane and Finch. I became the bike mechanic in the neighbourhood. People came to me for advice and help, and to trade-in bikes. I’d keep old ones on my porch and people would swap them. I’ve always been doing mechanics.”

A transition came when Mohamed got involved with Bike Piratesa, a non-profit DIY community bicycle repair shop where he volunteered for three years. “That was my first entry point to an actual bike shop space,” he says. Since then, he’s become a fixture in the downtown bike community.

Mohamed and Derek Chadbourne were two of the people who were instrumental in getting Charlie’s Freewheels off the ground. Charlie’s is a Regent Park youth-focused bicycle maintenance program that began in 2008 and opened a shop on Queen East in 2011 (See page 20 this issue). Mohamed also helped with the Cabbagetown Youth Centre bicycle project, which in 2010 received a deluge of bikes seized by police from the stash of notorious thief Igor Kenk.

It was only recently, in 2010, with all this experience under his belt, that Mohamed started at Evergreen. “I was hired as part of the active living program to implement the deliverables from a Ministry of Health promotion grant.”

Bike Works was part of these “deliverables” and its current home was provisioned for Mohamed to develop into a usable space. “It was envisioned as a one-year program and this was intended to be a temporary space.”

However, the program’s first year of operation was a bigger success than anticipated. From April to October of 2011, they brought in school groups, community groups, and people looking to rent a bike for the day. “Last year we had 368 kids go through here in the Evergreen camps program.”

“I’m happy I’ve been able to do this,” he says with a smile. The programs have so far functioned as an “amazing bridge” to school and community groups. “Right now it’s in an incubator phase. We’re going to test out programs from last year. We are looking to grow, though we’ll hit a capacity point.” With that in mind, a key goal for Bike Works is “seeding communities,” which they’re doing this summer by training 12 young people from around the city in mechanics and “soft skills,” then providing tools they can use to spread the knowledge in their communities.

While he sees bikes as “a great community builder and a natural way to get around,” his drive to expand bike-based programming isn’t drawn from some overwrought conception of the innate value of bicycles. “I see it more as a tool to empower.”

When he studied at the University of Toronto, Mohamed turned to the mechanics of the mind, majoring in neuroscience and psychology. He wanted to better understand the obstacles that people face in life, and how those problems can be overcome.

“I grew up in a Metro Toronto Housing Authority space. We didn’t see much outside of our area. A lot of my friends ended up in jail, or dead.”

Learning a specialized skill like bike mechanics is empowering. “It changes your perspective. There aren’t many opportunities like that for young people these days,” Mohamed says. “I think of bikes as a way to teach the principles — what it means to be responsible. That’s helpful for whatever field you end up in. There isn’t just a manual to turn to, there’s so much to learn.”

Mohamed says young people should be extremely hopeful. “Progress is happening out of the midst of chaos. Out of the financial crisis, we’ve seen a growth in corporate social responsibility. Change is happening. People are finding new ways of being, living, and doing in the world.”

~ This article is from our current Youth and Employment Issue (Summer 2012) ~

Update:

Although the Bike Works closes for the winter in October, you can still find Shah Mohamed at the Evergreen Brick Works. “You can catch me at the rink driving the Zamboni or helping out at the Skate Lending Library where community residents can borrow skates for free (suggested donation five dollars) ensuring the accessibility of our winter programming,” he says.

This year, Bike Works will be open from April 20 to October 5 every weekend (including holidays) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mohamed says that Bike Works focus in 2013 will be on a variety of workshops, more info to be announced soon on the website. In addition to Bike Works, which is on-site at the Brickworks, Evergreen will be supporting the Bike Works Community Bicycle Hub program in the Tower Renewal Project neighbourhoods.

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Related on the dandyBLOG:

Youth Master Mechanics: Charlie’s Freewheels

Douglas Yardley’s Excellent Don Valley Trail Adventure

Central Commerce Collegiate’s innovative and popular Bike Repair and Maintenance course

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