By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Apr 08, 2015 at 9:26 AM

While another typically cold, grey Wisconsin winter winds down, spring is inching back into the air. All the signs are there: Baseball is back in business, the flowers and plants are beginning to bloom again, and bikes are emerging from their winter hibernation. And in the Layton Boulevard West Neighbors (LBWN), the return of the bikes also signals the return of the Mobile Bike Hub.

Started in 2013, the Mobile Bike Hub is a small travelling bike repair station, fixing bikes, engaging the community and keeping folks active and moving. The idea originally emerged in 2011 as the neighborhoods of Burnham Park, Silver City and Layton Park developed a Quality of Life Plan to continue the community’s future growth.

"There was this reoccurring theme of, because we have such a high percentage of youth in our neighborhood, people wanting activities for youth to be able to do, coupled with biking as a healthy lifestyle activity," said Jorian Giorno, project coordinator for LBWN as well as the Mobile Bike Hub coordinator.

The idea of a community bike repair shop – the result of a conversation between LBWN director of catalytic projects Jezamil Vega-Skeels, a neighbor and a local school teacher – took on two of the seven key points from the Quality of Life Plan: youth education and leadership, and healthy living. A full-on repair shop wasn’t going to be feasible for many reasons – mainly space – but that core idea soon transformed into the Mobile Bike Hub.

"The initial reactions were positive, but people were also kind of unsure of what the Hub itself was," Giorno said. "That was easily overcome by just setting it up and getting those few pioneers who approached and asked questions. Then there was this floodgate phenomenon where we were kind of overwhelmed and had a ton of people there interested."

"Once people started realizing what we were doing, it came more to people’s attention that what we were doing can actually help them," said Gabriel Manzanet, a 2014 summer intern with the Mobile Bike Hub. "They started coming more and more. At first, it was kind of simple for us: take a bike, fix it up and give it back. Usually the stuff they gave us wasn’t that hard, but the more people who came, the more rare problems you’d see."

Now a senior at Escuela Verde, Manzanet got involved with the Mobile Bike Hub thanks to his school advisor, who noticed his growing interest and involvement with bicycles. The advisor pointed him toward the Hub’s new Internship Training Program, a 10-week educational program where students learned the technical details of bike repair, customer service and interaction, organizational skills and other important life lessons.

"We do it kind of self-based," Manzanet said. "At our school, we’d do our own projects, our advisors would look over us and make sure we were doing the right thing. A lot of times, (the work) was hands-on stuff, and I prefer that than most things. I’m not really tech-savvy or a keyboard person. I like to work hands on, learning from a visual standpoint."

From there, Manzanet graduated from program and was selected, along with another student, to receive a paid internship with the Mobile Bike Hub, working alongside the coordinator on site visits. Through a Boys & Girls Club program, he gained a further in-depth education in bike maintenance, which led to where he is now: working as an employee at DreamBikes, located at 2021 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. He also plans to return working with the Hub this summer, serving as an assistant Hub coordinator.

"I loved it, the experience of being outdoors," Manzanet said. "Usually during the summer, I really don’t do much, so this was a great way for me to just get outside and do something active and positive for the community."

That kind of healthy activity and growing youth leadership is a large part of the Mobile Bike Hub’s mission, and it’s only grown in the LBWN community over the past few years.

Over its few years of existence, the Hub has made 90 site visits, repaired over 500 bikes and graduated seven students from its internship training program in just its inaugural year. Its work has earned a LISC Milwaukee Awards for Neighborhood Development Innovation (MANDI) People’s Choice Award nomination, and that’s before the busy summer up ahead, with site visits beginning on Tuesday, June 16 at Rogers Field before moving to The Story Garden, Trowbridge Square and ending the summer at the Urban Ecology Center on Thursday, Sept. 3. Beyond this summer, Giorno and the Hub are hoping to find a partner for the project, forwarding the work they've been doing.

"The Hub has always been about empowering the community and empowering individuals through the work and the education, so now what we want to do is give our technical expertise to somebody else and empower them to take on the Hub and continue the work with us in a mentoring capacity," Giorno noted. "That's kind of the ultimate goal: for the Hub to become its own sustainable, standalone piece. We're committed to making sure the Hub is a lasting program and hopefully a replicable program for other neighborhoods in the city."

For now, however, its eyes are set on the summer season – and the upcoming parade of bikes emerging from their winter hibernations in need of a tune-up. But for Giorno and the rest of the Mobile Bike Hub crew, the project isn’t just about simply putting people back on two wheels.

"We had our three areas: repairs, education and community outreach, and at first, it was heavily those first two categories," he said, "which is great, but over time, once you build those relationships through the educational components and you were then able to fix bikes with people, then you built that bridge with people where they wanted to hear about other things going on (with LBWN). We’re connecting people with homeownership resources and economic development resources and providing information to people. That’s where I saw a big evolution: getting us a much greater community impact, rather than just a service we’re providing and then we’re gone.

"Now they know us as more than just bikes." 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.