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Phoenix Bikes: Volunteers, kids refurbish and repair bicycles

Saturday - 8/18/2012, 8:35am  ET

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The Phoenix Bikes shop in Arlington gives kids a chance to test their skills in an entrepreneurial environment. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
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WASHINGTON - Bicycles are meant to be user friendly, but finding an inexpensive one can be hard and figuring out what to do with an old one can be even harder.

The volunteers at Phoenix Bikes in Arlington say they can help in both cases.

Henry Dunbar, executive director of the nonprofit, says old bikes can be donated and rehabbed for someone else or they can be restored to working order.

"Phoenix Bikes is a full service bike shop," Dunbar says. "When the bikes are fixed up and made rideable and they're safe, we sell them back to the community."

The shop also does repairs to restore that old Schwinn or Raleigh back to road ready condition.

"We're probably the most affordable repair shop around," he says.

Many of the mechanics in the shop just off Four Mile Run aren't old enough to drive. Some are performing community service after scrapes with the law. Others are simply looking for something to do.

"Our target population is low income and at-risk kids," Dunbar says.

But he adds that it's not about turning kids into bike mechanics. Instead, he wants to turn them into social entrepreneurs - kids who are self-sufficient and gain a sense of where they want to go in the future.

It's not all about learning to turn a wrench, either. Bikes are meant to be used, Dunbar says.

It's Eduardo Buenaobra's job to get the kids out on bikes. He's the education coordinator for Phoenix Bikes. The title is explained through the schooling the kids get before they ever hit the trails on a bike.

"We go over bike maps, proper signaling, ride etiquette, all that kind of stuff," Buenaobra says.

He says some of the rides take the kids into the District of Columbia.

"Some of them are like, 'Wow, this is the furthest I've been out of my neighborhood!'" he says. "It really blows them away that they can do it under their own power."

Buenaobra says Phoenix Bikes gets some girls, but there's a larger percentage of boys participating in the program. He's been trying to change that, noting that cycling is often seen as "dude-centric."

"Cycling is not just for men or boys," he emphasizes. "Cycling is for everyone."

Dunbar says everyone is welcome at Phoenix Bikes. And if people don't have time to volunteer but have an old bike taking up space in the garage, Dunbar says there's a place to bring it.

WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow Kate Ryan and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)