PORTLAND – The Casale’s Auto Sales logo has disappeared from this classic box-type gas station building. It’s the afternoon of a sunny, summer-hot September day, and the facade of Portland Gear Hub on Washington Avenue is freshly, whitely painted.

This is thanks to long, perspiring hours just submitted by staff including service manager Tucker Smith, mechanic John Sherman, and program director Ainsley Judge. Their transformative work represents a small but significant step in the continuing evolution of Portland Gear Hub. The nonprofit preowned bicycle and used outdoor equipment shop moved here last spring from the Union Station storefront it had outgrown.

And at about the same time, in May, the Hub opened its Bike School – “a dedicated program space for bike maintenance and education” – at a separate location, 85 Anderson St. in East Bayside. A kickstarter campaign to furnish this facility with tools, benches, bike stands and other equipment proved a huge success, exceeding its goal by $1,000.

“The School is designated for public use, so it felt great to have that support,” Judge remembers, and points out that “we keep the programs separate from the retail. It’s a clean, educational space. Here, we can take in donations and generally be as messy as a bike shop needs to be.”

All proceeds from Gear Hub repair and sales go towards the school and its six-days-a-week programs, to make them either free or very affordable. Shop and school have a program director (Judge) because they are “powered,” in Judge’s word, by Camp Ketcha.

The 107-acre facility on Black Point Road in Scarborough, founded as a sunmer camp in 1964, is now a year-round outdoors community service center that focuses on youth development and family enrichment as well as camping.

Among highlights of the Bike School’s summer was running a mountain bike camp for girls age 11-12, which concluded with a group ride from the school in town out to Camp Ketcha. In their enthusiasm for cycling, the girls devised a roundabout route (even Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth made the itinerary) and using maps donated by Map Adventures, enjoyed a 26-mile trip rather than just over 10 miles.

Other programs at the school include Open Bench Time (learn repairs); Women and Trans Wrench Night (mechanics, rides and social times for women, trans, femme and gender non-conforming cyclists); and Bikes For All Mainers, providing full bicycle education to adults without financial means, recent immigrants, and others.

Those who complete the latter program, which is run in partnership with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, receive a refurbished bicycle, tools, and accessories. Last year there were 24 graduates.

That’s one impressive tidbit from among a number in 2016. The Gear Hub shop, essentially an outdoors-goods thrift store, drew more than 10,000 people. The staff, which includes program coordinator/mechanic Leia Crosby, was supported by 518 volunteers. Among the piles of donations necessitating the move to a larger space were 626 bicycles. And from parts that were beyond repair, 5.3 tons of metal were recycled.

Plans for the fall – in addition to adding a mural to the Gear Hub facade – include a Youth Mechanic Apprentices program for which kids ages 12-15 can apply, Judge said. Winter should see an expansion in advanced mechanics classes for adults – those have been selling out quickly.

“The high demand for all of our programs is encouraging and exciting,” Judge said. “And our new location is such a strong neighborhood place, with lots of people who bike or walk. People who haven’t heard of us are still walking in the door: ‘What are you, what’s going on? … Oh, great!’”

For more information on Portland Gear Hub and the Bike School, see portlandgearhub.org, and visit Portland Gear Hub and Portland Gear Hub Bike School on Facebook.

These monthly profiles are brought to you by Lee Auto Malls. The Lee family is committed to supporting local organizations that work to sustain Maine communities.

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