Pennsylvania’s Bike and Sol teaches youth how to work
Starting a bike shop was never part of Pastor Scott Roth’s plan for doing ministry. In addition to working with a church, he was heading up a community centre for at-risk students in East Greenville, a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania.
“We didn’t expect to turn into a bicycle shop. People kept showing up wanting their bikes fixed.” Given all of those requests for help, the community centre needed to get bike parts. Roth contacted a large bike parts distributor who informed him that before he could get parts, he needed to have a bike shop. That meant getting insurance, a brick and mortar building, plus signage.
Signage required a name. Several people sat around, discussing and discarded several names before coming on the idea of sun and bikes. Eventually they settled on Bike and Sol. That name includes a reference to the sun (Sol) and a play on words given that Sol is close to soul, a nod to an entity headed by a pastor, working out behind a former church.
Bike and Sol is now located in a church building that was a place of worship for the Ebenezer Evangelical congregation until the mid-1990s. A Mennonite church plant used the space until the spring of 2012. The bike shop project started out in a shed, then grew to a construction trailer. In the summer of 2016, an area high school student did a project to collect bikes for Bike and Sol. When she gathered 78 donated bikes, “we didn’t know where to put” all the inventory, Roth recalled.
That was a tipping point, with the community centre making way for a shop inside the former church building. “That’s how I got to that spot, and the school just kept sending me students.”
Those students were given the opportunity to earn a bike by completing a 15-hour bike maintenance training course. More importantly for Roth, the program taught those young people how to work. Roth thinks Bike and Sol is one of the few, if not the only, places in the US that “will teach a middle school kid how to work and give them a job reference for their first job.”
“It’s huge for a 14 or 15-year-old that goes to get a job that they can say they’ve got skills, and there’s an organization that says: yeah, we taught them, they know how to answer a phone, they know how to talk to people, they know how to work in a team environment.”
Roth has been the public face of Bike and Sol. The 46-year-old married father of two gives about 20 hours a week to the shop, Wednesday through Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, in addition to his full-time work as pastor of Line Lexington Mennonite Church. But he wasn’t trained to fix bikes when the program started. It was a friend, Dick Fox, a retired auto and bike mechanic, who offered to teach kids how to fix bikes.
Fox is still working at the bike shop seven years later, and the cohort of adult volunteers has grown to 15. Some of the program’s graduates return to volunteer as well.
In early 2020, Roth’s game plan was to launch a church plant out of the bike shop, but then “everything got weird.” Pandemic lockdowns meant they couldn’t have students in the shop for about 18 months. At the same time, “the bike industry exploded” and “we became a bike shop that just happens to have the kids’ program.”
The shop ended up buying inventory from several bike shops that were closing, increasing Bike and Sol’s inventory 20-fold. As pandemic restrictions eased and students started returning, Roth found that some students wanted to volunteer but didn’t want to be bike mechanics. He has involved some in computer work, including one girl who takes pictures for the shop’s eBay account and checks out customers who have bought bikes.
Bike and Sol is one of the few places, if not the only, place in the US that “will teach a middle school kid how to work and give them a job reference for their first job.”— Scott Roth
Bike and Sol works with about six to seven students a week during the school year, double that during summer months. Roth thinks what the shop has done can be replicated. He also admits to having scared off some people once they realize “it’s not something you can turn on and off.” No one person can make a go of the shop, as it requires various skills, he said.
“You gotta make it a lifestyle. It takes work, especially if you’re teaching kids, because it’s not like guitar lessons. .. They can only practice there (at the shop).”