By Hannah Borenstein
It’s rare when any organization, non-profit or not, can claim both exceptional customer service and reliable products for very low prices, all while making a valuable moral contribution to society. Recycle-A-Bicycle, with three locations in different boroughs of New York City, is one of them.
Photo courtesy of Recycle-A-Bicycle.
The non-profit organization accepts donated bikes and bike parts, refurbishes them to be sold, and then uses the proceeds to fund youth-driven and environmental programs. RAB has grown since 1994 from an organization networking with youth in school-based programs to having a storefront on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one in DUMBO, Brooklyn, and an education center in Long Island City, Queens.
“There is great demand and enthusiasm for all of our programs,” shop manager and seven-year employee Susan Lindell explains.
RAB has a multitude of programs including shop-based internships, school-based classes for middle and high school students where they are taught mechanical skills, recycled arts workshops where students learn to make jewelry and art from recycled bicycle parts, and a Kids Ride Club where youth aged 10-17 go on organized rides throughout New York City.
“I think that we have developed to take on the latest demands of the growing popularity of cycling,” says Lindell. “We have been able to start more programs within schools, have enjoyed a greater demand of our shop internships, and the popularity of our ride club has grown continually over the years.”
The Kids Ride Club has over 100 regular participants who collectively ride over 10,000 miles and burn over 1,500,000 calories. The storefronts have shown an increased demand for products and services in the past years along with heightened demand for programs.
“By educating youth on the benefits of cycling and the confidence that can be gained by learning the skills to work on bicycles we are helping to encourage a new generation of cyclists. We are also continually helping to get people on the road by selling quality used bikes.”
The employees at RAB envision the bike culture of New York City to continually grow and Lindell believes their organization will mold nicely with the transition.
“Cycling conditions have been continually improving,” says Lindell. “More bike lanes are popping up which equals more cyclists on the road. More cyclists create increased awareness and in turn, increased safety. The safer people feel on the road the more likely they will start and continue riding. The cycle feeds off of itself.”
“I think RAB will fit in perfectly for the future of NYC cycling by educating young folks on the benefits of cycling and by providing a place to buy used bikes at reasonable prices,” she continues.
The only potential inconsistency in RAB’s business model is their inventory. Because all of their bikes are donated, they are not able to predict when they will come in, how many, and what kind of condition they will be in. What they have in stock changes on a regular basis, and the best bet a customer has is to check in as often as possible.
“As for the parts we use, we do need to order supplemental new parts in order to have quality parts for our bike builds and repairs,” Lindell says. “That is key to maintaining consistent bike sales and service.”
All bikes we sell come with a 30-day warranty on our work and if parts come very worn-in or broken, RAB recycles them.
The customer base and attendees of workshops and programs at RAB are vast and diverse. Some people enter the shop having never ridden a bike, or having not owned one in forty years. RAB insists that many of these less experienced riders are an integral part of the future of urban bike culture.
“These are the most important people to help get on the road,” Lindell says. “There has been an increase in customers like this.”
At face value many would find it remarkable and surprising to hear that a non-profit, donation-based bike shop, with some of the cheapest prices in the city, is able to stay afloat. But with a business model that matches the needs and newfound desires of sustainable and healthy ways to navigate both the streets and lives, RAB is right on track.