Women Bike PHL
Bike builder extraordinaire
Janique is a graduate of Neighborhood Bike Works’ Earn-a-Bike program, and continues to volunteer at NBW regularly.
Tell me how you got interested in bikes; what made you come to Neighborhood Bike Works for the first time?
A few years ago, a man named Leonard, who is still a close friend, was running a nonprofit program for the children around the neighborhood where we lived and he was taking kids on field trips and bringing them here during the school year to join Earn-A-Bike. One day he asked if I wanted to go, and I said yes, and he brought me here and I just started and I continued to return after I graduated from the class.
What did you think would happen when you came to Neighborhood Bike Works for the first time? Did you think you would get excited about bikes?
I was already excited about it. I’m a very active person and I like hands-on things, and I already knew I was going to be interested and really involved in bike related activities.
What’s your favorite part about working with bikes?
It’s a positive thing I feel. This is a skill for me, and I didn’t really have anything else to do so I invested my time a lot into learning about the maintenance and repair of bikes. I really enjoyed learning about it and I enjoyed coming here and I just got into it.
How many hours a week would you say you spend working on bikes, riding bikes, etc?
In my youth I used to ride everywhere. I came to Bike Works every day, I always did something with a bike. I don’t know, maybe 2 or 3 hours, I used to volunteer here and take classes.
What kinds of rides do you do?
Way back when, when I was first getting into it, I’d just do short rides from my house to here, or any rides that NBW was coordinating, so not any heavy long stuff, but just to and fro places within a few miles.
Have you been on any longer rides?
Twice I went on the yearly fundraising ride that NBW holds called the Ride of Dreams. It’s 200-some miles from here to DC. Last year we did from here to the Poconos.
Are there any projects that you’re especially proud of that you’ve done here? A bike that you built, a tricky mechanical problem that you figured out?
I do that a lot when I come here and volunteer. A lot of the adults I feel look up to me as like a second opinion-type person. Like Liz here, she’s adequate. (laughs)
Liz: I think I’d get a D grade. [Note: Liz Pisarczyk is NBW’s Program Director]
[Liz] comes to me for a lot of help and I’m always here to help her out. Really, anyone. Most of the time we have new volunteers who just finished a class and I’m here to help. When I’m here to volunteer I notice a lot of problems and I usually do pick up on things, I usually am able to fix something that someone else may not have been able to fix.
Do you have any examples of a time you caught something that no one else did?
Most of the kids that come to summer camp are clueless about what problems are going on with their bike, and I’m usually there to guide them. There was one person who didn’t know what was wrong with their crank, because the crank wasn’t moving, and he was like, oh the bolt’s too tight. And I was like, it’s not the bolt, it’s your bottom bracket. You need to overhaul it, or replace something. So we took apart the crank and the bottom bracket, replaced it, there was a busted up axle that was messed up, replaced that, and fixed it.
There’s this enormous spectrum of quality in bikes, and for a newbie it’s really hard to tell the difference. How does quality show up when you’re fixing up a bike, and what kind of a difference does it make to you?
Quality does make a difference to me. You can tell. There are a lot of shiny, pretty looking bikes, but some things on a nicer bike might be made of aluminum or metal, and something on a cheaper bike might be made out of plastic or another material like that. The brand of the components on the bike is what makes a good quality bike, if you know the difference.
Besides the volunteering you do at Neighborhood Bike Works, do you ever bring your bike expertise into your personal life? Help friends, family, teach them and mentor them?
I help my family. I fixed up a little bike for my brother, and my sister had a bike of her own that was purchased from a family friend. She had issues with it, got a flat a couple of times, and I brought a patch kit home and helped her fix it. It just kept getting flats, so I ended up replacing the tube for her. I have a bike trailer that was given to me by the former executive director at Bike Works, Kitty. During the summer I used to bike my little brothers to daycare in the mornings. Everyone would say, “Oh, that’s so cute!”
What’s it like to bike with the trailer? Does it interfere with your turning radius?
You can’t turn too far left, because your rear wheel will rub against it. It’s harder to bike, there’s weight being added, but you can still go up hills.
How did you learn to ride a bike?
The first bike I got was on Christmas. I was young. It was a K-mart bike, something cheap, my dad got for me. It was one of those bikes that needed some assembly before you could ride it. I had never touched a tool, and somehow I figured out how to put my bike together. I don’t know how old I was, but I was pretty young, and my family was kind of shocked, like, wow, she did that! And I put the training wheels on and everything and started riding. And then I took the training wheels off.
Where would you ride when you first started?
Up and down the block, that’s about it. When I joined NBW was when I started riding for transportation.
Do you have any tips for people who are just learning to take care of their bikes? What would you say the first thing you need to know is?
I think the first thing to know is how to fix a flat.
Liz: What kind of tools do you think people should have at home?
A 15 wrench for your wheel if you don’t have a quick release. A bike pump and a bike patch kit, for flats. An allen key set and tri socket [wrench] for your anchor bolt, tightening your brake cables. And oil.
I know you’ve built your own bikes – how many have you built?
About 20, 30.
And where do they end up?
Well a lot of them got stolen and recently I started selling bikes on Craigslist and to people I know. So, stolen or sold.
How many bikes do you have now?
I have three bikes right now, two mountain bikes and my single speed, and I just had one disappear from my house, a really nice road bike. So I had four and now I have three.
If you were to build your dream bike, with every single dream part, what would it look like, what kinds of parts would it have, what color would it be, and what would you name it?
My dream bike would be a road bike with drop-down handlebars, and the color would be white. I’d want it to be a single-speed, I love single-speeds. With puncture-resistant skinny tires, and that’s about it.
How do you see yourself interacting with bikes in the future? Do you think you’ll try anything new?
I think as I age I will continue to commute by bike just as much as I do now. In the future I want to build a bike from scratch, with a whole blueprint, design the whole thing. That’s what I want to do.
Do you think you want to work with bikes for your career?
No. I’m more into acting or music. I actually want be like a little entrepreneur, I was going to run a bike shop out of my basement, and I still want to do that, but nothing to live off of, just something on the side, possibly have a little place for people to come work out of my house.
Have there ever been things that happened in your life because of bikes?
Because of Bike Works I had enough skill and information about bikes that I got my first job at Trophy Bikes. I was a cashier and worked in the stockroom.
How do you feel about the fact that there are fewer women biking in Philly than men? How do you think that can change?
I hear people saying that women are intimidated, and they’re not encouraged to bike. That wasn’t for me. I’m not intimidated at all for any of that. I could care less who I’m around, men or women, doesn’t matter. It is a predominantly male activity. If women were less intimidated, maybe there would be more of them riding, it would even out.
How long did it take you to really feel like you knew what you were doing when it came to repairing bikes?
By like, the 9th class. So, a whole year.
Liz: What kept you interested?
I met great people, like Liz. Have her to support me, I look up to her as a role model. She’s one of the closest people I have here and on the outside. The atmosphere of this place, I feel like it’s somewhere I can come to.
Liz: What is the benefit of getting involved in biking, from your own experience, that you could sell to other girls?
I can’t speak to everyone. How would I do it? Opportunities, places you can go, go further. Freedom. But sometimes I get lazy and take SEPTA.
Do you have anything you want to add about bikes or about you?
I’m a very creative individual, I play guitar and bass, I love performing, I like to be creative, I like being hands on.
Are you in a band?
You could kind of say that. I had a Ramones show, recently in April. And two years ago I had an AC/DC show, I performed at Johnny Brenda’s. I practiced for two months and then performed. It was cool.
Interview by Claudia Setubal