Youth Master Mechanics: Charlie’s Freewheels

Youth Master Mechanics: Program recruits and teaches youth about bicycles

Photos by Dana Lacey

Story by Azam Abowath

This story is from our current Summer 2012 youth and employment issue of dandyhorse. Order it here.

For more information on Charlie's Freewheels, click here.


18 Vol. 5, Issue 1 // summer 2012

I haven’t been interested in biking all my life. It wasn’t until I was 14 — the year I had my biking dream — that I started pedalling. In the dream, I picked up a bicycle I found on the sidewalk and simply started riding.

After that, I used my brother’s bike to practice for real, and on my third go, I hit the road to travel to my high school classes. Then, I wanted my own bicycle, because anyone that lives on hand-me-downs knows the great feeling of finally having something that’s your own. That’s where Charlie’s Freewheels came in for me.

Charlie’s Freewheels has been a blessing in my life.

The parent organization, the Charles Prinsep Initiative, was started in memory of Charles Prinsep, an avid cyclist who died in 2007 at the age of 23 while riding his bike. It’s a program that recruits youth and teaches them about bicycles and I was part of the pilot session. I picked out a donated bike and learned how to repair it. The bike I chose then is the same one I’m using today, nearly three years later.

The program opened many doors for me. I stuck around, volunteered and was eventually employed by the new shop, called Charlie’s Bike Joint, that began operations in April of 2011.

I stopped working at the shop when I began attending college, and it still seems that no matter where I go in life, Charlie’s will somehow be involved. Soon after my first semester started, I was asked to write for their website and blog.

Charlie’s has lots of interesting people to write about. One such person is Paul Kazumba. At 19 years of age, he is a recent graduate of Freewheels and a current employee at the shop.
I recently sat down with Paul at a nearby Tim Hortons to talk about how the program, the shop and how Freewheels is doing.

First, let me say, some of you may think Kazumba is a figment of my imagination because of how much our thoughts and experiences are mirrored. He was 14 when he became involved with bikes, mainly using it to stay fit and to get around, just like me. His birthday is also a day before mine.

Kazumba told me Freewheels was the perfect opportunity to learn about the nuts and bolts: the ins and outs of bikes. While I joined because I wanted a bike and to learn how to work with them, Paul’s reason was much better: He wants to run his own shop.

He took a year off after graduating from high school and is currently working at Charlie’s Bike Shop in order to save money for post-secondary education, but also to gain experience repairing bicycles. Yes, Charlie’s continues to benefit him as well. The people there, the organizers and volunteers, are very helpful, lending a hand whenever needed. Kazumba says he’s learning a lot with the head mechanics. With the skills he learns while working at the shop, and the knowledge he will learn from attending Seneca’s business management program, he hopes opening his own shop will soon be possible.

We agreed that bikes are an amazing way to travel around Toronto. We can’t afford cars, and even if we could, who enjoys driving downtown? The TTC tends to take as much time as walking would because of waiting time. The bike is a perfect and efficient transportation for students like us in a city like Toronto.

Kazumba says that it’s wonderful biking around the city. It takes him less than ten minutes to get to work. While some people have to wake up very early and leave a lot of time to reach their workplace on time, he doesn’t have to worry so much. He lives on River St., near Dundas. He bikes south from there, turning right on Queen Street to head west towards work.

I find the route to be bumpy, especially since River Street is in dire need of repair (as is much of Toronto’s road network). But Kazumba finds it to be smooth since he has suspension, which would explain why I find it so horrible on my road bike. He doesn’t have any complaints about his rides, except for having to endure the cold, harsh days and having to bundle up because of it. Luckily for all of us bikers, summer is never too far off.

My other question was regarding his thoughts on drivers, and sharing the road with them. We’ve both been biking for almost the same number of years, so it was interesting to see how he felt. He said that it’s not a problem for him. The only vehicles that are usually a problem, he finds, are taxis. They’re trying to weave in and out to pick up and drop off customers.

As for the so-called war on cars, Paul thinks there is no need to get mad. And I agree. We’re both people in vehicles trying to get from point A to B and we need to understand that we’re all on the road together. If we respect each other, everything can work out.

Check out more of Dana Lacey's photos of Charlie's Bike Shop below:

This story is from our current Summer 2012 youth and employment issue of dandyhorse. Order it here.

More info on Charlie's Freewheels can be found here.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

dandyARCHIVE: Policy Pumpers Community Group: Charlie's FreeWheels

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