BIDDEFORD — Cam Roy was building a cellphone charger at the Community Bicycle Center on Friday, as four novice bike mechanics worked behind him. Roy, 13, is just one of more than 300 local youths who came to the center because he liked bikes, but discovered new interests here as well.

“We try to find what their passions are, and try to ignite those passions,” said Andy Grief, the center’s executive director. “We know Cam is interested in electricity. We have a volunteer who works at Pratt & Whitney (known for its engine technology) who’s going to show him around there.”

This fall, the nonprofit bike center will celebrate its 10th anniversary and Grief, its founder, has much to smile about. The center moved into a new space in September after a successful $454,000 fundraising campaign. Last year the center served 302 youth riders. In March alone, during one of the coldest winters, 323 kids came to the center to ride, work on bikes, or teach bike mechanics to others.

The new home is a former cabinetmaking shop next to a city park in the heart of Biddeford’s poorest neighborhoods. The old city garage where it had been housed was 1,025 square feet with a 1,000-square-foot storage facility. The center’s sleek, new, renovated home is 4,800 square feet on 6 acres.

There are other youth bike centers in Maine – in Springvale, Westbrook and Eastport – but none doing as many programs or connecting with as many youth as Community Bicycle Center, said Brian Allenby, spokesman for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

“It’s one of the better established,” Allenby said. “The fact Andy was able to generate that much capitol through fundraising to buy this amazing space speaks volumes about the value this has to the community. It’s a way to teach kids a wide variety of life skills through different contexts.”

The CBC is about bikes, but Grief said it’s really about learning patience, flexibility and how to work with others.

“We serve under-resourced kids. I don’t like to say at-risk. We try to lower the barriers. So we offer the most programs we can, we are a drop-in center, and we’re free,” Grief said.

The CBC is not a counseling center, although Grief got his masters in child counseling after starting it. The kids who stop in here learn real-life skills, not only how to fix and build bikes, but how to teach these skills, and how to sell bikes, which they will do for the center at the Bicycle Coalition Bike Swap on April 26.

Roy, the self-proclaimed “mad scientist” who built lighted handlebars for his bike, said he likes the freedom the larger center allows for him to experiment – and the possibilities are endless.

“I like to create things. I started with bike-part art,” he said. “This new home is nice because I can access the tools, we all have our own space, we’re not bumping into each other.

“Everyone is happy here, definitely I am.”

Matt Perkins, 15, has been part of four Trek Across Maine riding teams for the center. He’s presented forums at youth leadership conferences on the merits of the tandem captain license. Last week he led his first “Bike Monkey” mechanic class to adults on his own. Perkins said in the five years he’s been part of the center, it’s taught him where he wants his life to go.

“I want to be a teacher, a music teacher, because I’ve learned to play different instruments,” Perkins said. “Before I came here I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But being here showed me. Mentoring through bikes in the youth development programs, talking to kids as a tandem leader, it showed me.”


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