Spokes Men: 'Bikes 4 Life' Duo Offers Job Skills & Affordable Wheels

Since opening in 2010, Bikes 4 Life has connected West Oakland's youth with job training and affordable transportation. Manager Andre Ernest and CEO Tony Coleman see it as a natural way to address some of the area's perennial challenges.

The shop is part of One Fam, a community network that provides job training to young adults and the formerly incarcerated. The shop first came about as a way to work with Scraper Bikes. “Our whole mission is good bikes and good jobs,” said Ernest, “so why don’t we show them how to be entrepreneurs?”

Bikes 4 Life partnered with the the city's Workforce Development Board, which provides funding for small businesses to hire youth for summer internships. With WDB support, Ernest is training the city's next generation of bike mechanics and small business owners.

“We want to be the inspiration,” Ernest said. “It’s important for youth to see somebody of our nationality and from here running a business. What better face for them to see than ours?”

Not every youth assigned to the shop through the Oakland WBD has been a good fit, but the vast majority of experiences have been worthwhile for both parties, he said. “Once you give them the opportunity to do something positive with their life they’ll take it,” said Ernest.

West Oakland residents speak about the value of Bikes 4 Life. | Video: Bikes 4 Life

The shop has had some struggles over the years in a neighborhood that's short on safe hangout spaces for youth.

When nearby Revolution Café closed, Bikes 4 Life's business took a hit. Ernest  said he and Coleman were wary that the vacant space might attract more developers to an already gentrifying neighborhood, so they took over the coffeehouse.

“It’s not that hard to make coffee,” said Ernest.

Since moving in, Ernest and Coleman have used the café for community meetings and a monthly concert series called "Blues on Historic 7th Street."

“We plan to fight to save an historic landmark for the neighborhood, opposed to condo development sure to outprice current residents,” Coleman wrote in an email. To organize residents to fight displacement and evictions, the duo hold community meetings in the café at 6pm on the first Wednesday of each month.

Operating two businesses has definitely been a learning experience for the pair. “We're still figuring out how to sustain [and] remain open,” wrote Coleman. “[We’re] currently depending on volunteers [and the] high turnover makes it challenging.”

Bikes 4 Life has a set number of paid internships, but always welcome volunteers, either at the shop or Revolution Café. Opportunities are listed on its volunteer page. 

Bikes 4 Life is open Monday though Friday from 10–6, Saturday from 10–5, closed Sunday.

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Spokes men bikes 4 life duo offers job skills affordable wheels