On April 17 between 2 and 5 p.m., Charlie’s Bike Shop, Toronto’s first youth-operated bike repair shop, will be opening at 242½ Queen Street East. The business gets its name from a Regent Park youth program called Charlie’s FreeWheels, which cycling enthusiasts designed to give kids from the area a skill set that would get them excited about learning. Since 2008, bike mechanic-cum-educator Derek Chadbourne has provided more than 25 students from Regent Park with 60 hours of free training in basic bike maintenance (including repair and safety), and on April 17 he will take the post as manager of Charlie’s.
Past students will assume paid junior-to-senior mechanic positions thanks to Career Foundation, a government agency that provides funding for hard-to-employ youth. FreeWheels program coordinator Caitlin Carlisle hopes that once revenue is generated, the education factor at the root of the Charlie’s initiative can be better sustained. She notes that they hope to have the shop “operating solidly” so they can hire another adult and student and maintain the operation full-time by mid- to late summer, which is the same time interested youth can expect the return of Charlie’s FreeWheels training. The project shows an admirable attention to youth in a pocket of the city that is often neglected, and we’d happily tow our fixer-upper to this group of kids, who clearly have their training wheels off.