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Two Wheel View: Bikes the vehicle for social impact in Calgary

Most of the time, it’s not even about the bikes.

“The bike is the entry point – the conversation starter,” said Laura Istead, executive director at Two Wheel View, a Sunalta-based bicycle recycler and social outreach organization.

At a recent Wednesday gathering of the Beltline Bike Club, about 10 young men were gathered around a table at the southwest Calgary location, tossing back a healthy snack before they got geared up… to learn about shifter and brake cables.

They had to disassemble the housing and replace the cables. All part of the bike repair education they get while developing the soft skills of interpersonal relations, confidence building, teamwork, empathy and emotional regulation. As a bonus, it’s a safe spot to talk about the challenge of teen life in Calgary today.

“We work on all of those different aspects while using the bike to do that,” said Istead.

The bikes this group worked on were neatly stored on the second tier of shelving in the back corner near the overhead door entry.  The teamwork began there as one of the young men stood on the rack and handed bikes down to each member.

They put their bikes on stands to make it easier to work around them. They chatted, joked and then the lesson started.

Hank Hansen (right) provides instruction on how to disassemble the shift cable housing. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Two Wheel View coming up on 20 years

Two Wheel View was founded in 2001 by Rick and Tanya McFerrin after they toured the world by bike. Through their experience, they saw the impact you could have by bringing people together with bicycles. The pair brought Two Wheel View to Calgary in 2006. They still live about three blocks away from the location, and still pop their head in from time to time.

The McFerrin’s saw an opportunity to use bikes as a vehicle to build leadership skills, self-esteem and environmental stewardship. The programs are geared toward youth as an afterschool program.

“They said, ‘How do we combine this amazing, impactful experience we had traveling by bike with young people, and how can we create something that can share those experiences,” said Istead.

They moved into their current space three years ago as they only had a small office on 12 Avenue and a separate bike storage in the basement of Tourism Calgary. They used to shuttle bikes with a van, but they had to deal with limited parking time at that building.

Their current 17 Street and 10 Avenue SW location provides a larger warehouse space in the back, an adjoining office space and a front end where they can sell recycled bikes in their social enterprise.

“This is a real game changer,” said Istead.

Two Wheel View programming has grown

There are multiple programs now, starting with their 10-week after school program. Youth who may have barriers or those otherwise unable to participate in these programs are referred to Two Wheel View.

They work with the Autism Aspergers Friendship Society of Calgary, helping build social connections with youth that work very well with their hands. There’s the Beltline Bike Club, they meet every Thursday and the youth get to build a bike from scratch.

Two Wheel View also runs an employability program for 18 to 24-year-old, with participants referred from other agencies like the Alex Community Health Centre. The participants go through intensive training and then are sent out to practicums where they apply the skills they’ve learned.

“We try to use as many community members as we can to engage the space and activate the space and, and we have a big group of volunteers from all walks of life,” said Istead.

“A lot of retirees that just like tinkering on bikes and want to come and have the time during the day to come and hang out with us.”

They work with more than 400 Calgary youth annually.

The Beltline Bike Club allows the members to pick out a bike, strip it, build it up from scratch while learning about every component. And they get to customize it.

Working on the bikes

Jon Ketch, 15 works on his bike at Two Wheel View. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Jon Ketch, 15, was trying to loosen the hex bolt on one of his shifter housing. The lesson that day was brake and shift cables and he wanted to be prepared.

Ketch had been participating in the program for the past six weeks.

“We mainly fix bikes. And then we have talks and stuff,” said Ketch, adding that they share knowledge about bike fixes and in between they concoct plans for their next bike trip.

He wants to use the knowledge passed on from his dad and build on that. But, he’s also interested in contributing to others.

“Make new friends. Make a difference. Help others with their bikes,” Ketch said.

He said it’s a way for him to get more involved in his community.

The whole back shop is bustling. The group has a series of bikes hoisted up on stands, ready for more careful work.

They all gather in a circle around community facilitator, Hank Hansen. He takes them through the cabling process. Now they put their new skills to the test.

Two Wheel View Social Enterprise

These bikes the youth will get to keep. They’re the ones they’ll perhaps ride on one of the bike tours they plan as they toil away in the back shop. Others that are fixed in the programs are recycled and sold through the Two Wheel View social enterprise.

There were at least 20 bikes in the front of the shop – from kids bikes to top end street bikes.

It’s one of the ways they fund their operation, aside from grants. They’ve only been doing it since 2017.

“If we can’t use (the bike) in that program, then we see if it might be suitable for our social enterprise. That then gets sold potentially up at the front of the store and then we get some more bikes out into the community as well,” said Istead.

“But it really has been helping us fundraise, as well, in a big way.”

Two Wheel View brought in 1,300 bikes last year. Up from 700 in 2018.

They’ve seen an uptick in traffic since the Good Life Community Bike Shop shut down, said Istead.

The group also partners with other organizations to get bikes into the hands of Calgarians who may not have access.

Two Wheel View’s storefront at their 10 Avenue SW location. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

‘They don’t want to do anything else, but they want to be here.’

Istead’s been a part of Two Wheel View for nine years. She started as an intern through a program with the YMCA and the federal government that created opportunities for those underemployed in the field of environmental science.

She said she fit perfectly for the program but was worried because she didn’t know about bike mechanics. Istead got the job and then built the programming from there.

What keeps her here is seeing the daily impact they’re having.

“I’ve had conversations even just today about young people that are really struggling in their lives, but they want to be here,” she said.

“They don’t want to do anything else, but they want to be here.”

Earlier in the day one of the youth just came in to hang out on the futon. It’s a safe space. Istead said it might be the only safe space they have for two hours a week.

“That’s the driving force. It’s finding a place where people can belong and feel like they belong, regardless of where they come from, where they are, what language they might speak, their socio-economic status,” she said.

“And that we’re giving these young people and just our whole team, an opportunity to really feel a part of something and feel like they’re contributing to what this place is.”