Brakingcycles 1

Learn More About Braking Cycles

By: Page Heller  August 15, 2020

Braking Cycles is a non-profit coffee and bike shop in Portland, Oregon, under the umbrella of Transitional Youth. Through youth apprenticeship programs, Braking Cycles is committed to offering hope, tangible job skills and real-world knowledge that will provide youth a place and opportunity to dream, reach, and achieve.

Braking Cycle’s bike shop provides youth with the opportunity to become skilled bike technicians, and in turn giving them opportunities for a better future. In addition to bike repair, they also sell refurbished bikes, different bike parts, and accessories.

We had the opportunity to talk with Braking Cycles founder, Rhona Mahl, to gain an understanding of Braking Cycles organizational goals, and why they chose to incorporate cycling.

Can you provide some background on Braking Cycles?

The whole purpose was to create a business so that we could hire young people, as young as 14 years old, to learn job skills. Young people that are at risk, that are homeless, that are in foster care or aging out of foster care, have been trafficked or gang-involved. We are currently a bike shop and coffee shop, but another track that we offer is taking pieces from old bike parts and recreating items of art and jewelry-it’s called UpCycle. Right now we've got our windows filled with wreaths that are made out of bicycle wheels and they are really beautiful. Currently, we have been open now, this brick and mortar building, Braking Cycles coffee and bike shop for two and a half years, and we have graduated about 45 young people. It has been an exciting journey.

Why did you choose to incorporate cycling into your organization?

Biking is what Portland celebrates. Cycling is something that everyone can do, it touches every household in some way or another. Being able to provide an opportunity for a young person to walk into a bike shop, not just as a customer, but as an employee, where they can start from scratch and build their own bike alongside mentors, and they are learning lessons in life.

What tangible job skills are your youth learning from their experience in the bike shop?

They come in as apprentices and they are learning to be technicians if they choose the bike shop track. There are four or five levels of learning from the basic level of doing tuneups and assessing different problems to more advanced where they are actually learning to be a technician through the different levels. By the time they graduate, they are teaching their peers. To conclude, it is a four or five-phase learning program where they're coming in learning, and then they are graduating by teaching.

What sets you apart from other organizations in your community?

We want to see them launch from our program into the community rather than cycling back around to another program. We want to see them come into our program and learn their identity, find out who they are, tap into what their dreams are, whether it be work, education, find avenues for them to access that education, access those employment opportunities, and when they graduate, they will be self-sufficient and independent from government programs. One of our strong core values is to steer young people away from government dependence, and into self-sufficiency. We believe that part of teaching a young person to be self-sufficient is teaching them their value.

What are your goals for the next three to five years?

I think continuing to establish opportunities for young people to learn and build a work ethic. This is a safe place for young people. They can not only learn a skill or a trade, but they are also learning that they are valuable. They are learning that they have skills, they are learning what they are capable of. In the next three to five years, I want to see more people served.

I would also love to see another Braking Cycles open up somewhere. If we could duplicate this other places, that would be amazing because I think it's a model that really works. It provides an opportunity for people to get involved and engaged because the truth is homelessness, sex trafficking, and the foster care system impacts all of us. We are all surrounded by young people that have come through similar backgrounds. Most people have a couple of bikes in their garage, most people enjoy a cup of coffee, and they are already purchasing and investing in those things so if people could redirect their dollars a little bit and purchase from us, they are investing in the process of a solution and some of those areas of social justice issues that impact all of us.

Who and what exactly will donations go to?

The donations will go to Braking Cycles and they will provide opportunity because this is a paid apprenticeship. Our young people are actually working, and they are earning a little above minimum wage. It is a 12-week apprenticeship program and if people give to Braking Cycles, they are actually giving towards an apprenticeship. Donations go directly to our youth and pay for their wages and their job training.

If you are interested in supporting Braking Cycles youth apprenticeship programs, please consider donating to them:

Photos Courtesy of Braking Cycles