An Activist Launches a Community Bike Shop/ Café in Boston

Noah Hicks’ Sip & Spoke Bike Kitchen will bring accessible bike services to a struggling neighborhood.

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A rendering of the Sip & Spoke from the website.

A rendering of the Sip & Spoke.

Noah Hicks, a 28-year-old self-taught bike mechanic, activist and now entrepreneur is getting ready to open the doors to The Sip & Spoke Bike Kitchen, a minority-owned full service bike shop and café in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. The Bike Kitchen will serve as an important community hub in the historic neighborhood, which has struggled through various periods of recession and revival in recent years.

According to PR News, the Bike Kitchen will be located in a long-abandoned but historically important building, which in a former life served as a rest stop along a busy streetcar line. Today, the route is still an important transportation corridor and is increasingly used by local and regional cyclists, but the building has been lying in wait.

Hicks partnered with Historic Boston Incorporated, a nonprofit developer focused on historic preservation, and The American City Coalition, a nonprofit neighborhood revitalization group, in order to secure the unique location for the project. “I will be very happy to see this unused public asset brought into productive use,” Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh told PR News. “This project will help activate the street and continue the positive momentum of this historic Boston neighborhood.”

Hicks at the Bowdoin Bike School.

Hicks at the Bowdoin Bike School. Photo from the Indiegogo page.

Hicks’ history with cycling stretches back to his earliest years, when he began riding around the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood as a 3-year-old. A childhood hobby turned into a lifestyle, and he continued using bicycling throughout his teenage years to access culture, activities and green spaces outside his neighborhood. But like many adults, cycling fell to the wayside when he entered the labor force, and he shifted his energies towards his career as a Latin teacher. When his school closed and he found himself without employment, he returned to cycling for transportation to save money and stay active. Thus began a journey that saw Hicks fully immersed in the world of bikes and community development.

He joined the Executive Board of the Boston Cyclists Union and the City of Boston’s Bicycle Advisory Group to serve as a voice for equity within the cycling movement, and served as an adviser on family-oriented event planning for a local youth organization. In 2013, he converted an 8’ x 10’ shed in a local park into a pop-up, seasonal bicycle school offering low-cost bicycles and repair lessons to local residents. Run by a crew of teenage volunteers, the Bowdoin Bike School recycled used bikes, offered free bike accessories, ran an earn-a-bike initiative for the formerly homeless, and ran bike safety courses for the community before eventually finding a brick-and-mortar home in a long-vacant automotive repair shop. Today, the Bowdoin Bike School functions as a bicycle retail shop and education center offering classes for women, queer youth of color, and working parents.

Together with the Bowdoin Bike School, the Sip & Spoke Bike Kitchen will breathe new life into an area of the city which struggles with a lack of amenities, and where the average income is lower than in the City of Boston as a whole.

“I have lived in this community for my entire life and there is a dearth of places for us to meet, to collaborate, to celebrate our neighborhood’s rich culture and unique character,” Hicks told PR News. “Bikes and coffee are both tremendously unifying, and I see this project as an opportunity to bring people together and raise awareness about the needs of low-income riders.”

While the majority of people biking for transportation in the US are low-income individuals and recent immigrants who bike principally for economic reasons, they are also more likely to live in neighborhoods which lack bike shops or services. Hicks aims to address this discrepancy by closing the access gap between bike services and the people who need them the most.

“The absence of bike shops in many of Boston’s neighborhoods is very much akin to the absence of access to supermarkets,” said Richard Fries, Executive Director of MassBike. “We, as a culture, are not providing very good access to bicycles for the people who could benefit most. Noah recognizes and is responding to that need.”

While the construction financing is in place thanks to the non-profit partners, Hicks is now raising money for the tools, furnishing and amenities needed to create a fully-functioning and comfortable space for the community. He has launched an Indiegogo campaign to support the effort, all donations are tax-deductible. To find out more about the project, you can visit The Sip & Spoke website, or support Hicks and the community through the crowdfunding effort.

Hilary Angus is the Online Editor at Momentum Mag. She writes about the intersection of bicycles and community development. @HilaryAngus

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