By John Milosich
Are you familiar with The Common Wheel? This fix-it garage, education center, charity, grassroots, environmental activist, bike shop is my Lancaster Transplant Super-Pick. I landed in town May of this year to connect with my partner and her family, and to take refuge from the competition and cost of living in New York City. I spent the last two years working a job that toured the US, toting my secondhand but deeply loved Trek 1000 along for the ride. My tires, my sweat and, on occasion, my face have hit the streets of 50 or so cities near and far. On that long journey, I grew to deeply appreciate all things urban bicycle as well as the varying features of these locations that make a welcome, safe space for bicyclists. Which brings me to The Common Wheel.
Walking in the door of the green and white painted brick building which was once an old pumphouse, I track the smell of axle grease, rubber, the dust of various alloys, and then the sound of a sweet rendition of “Love is My Religion” piping through internet radio. I’m greeted from behind a propped up, half-assembled Motobecane by Service Manager and master bike tech, Jason Ingargiola, who breaks from his busy wrenching to clue me in on the basics of The Common Wheel, taking me on a quick tour of the facility and briefly articulating the organization’s mission: “To get people on bikes.” The website goes into greater depth with “To encourage cycling in Lancaster by creating a fun, welcoming space where we provide access to hands on education and tools to all members of the community.” To this end, they offer supervised BYOB(ike) self-service sessions, technician and road safety classes and an Earn-A-Bike program. They service bikes and also have them to sell (professionally restored) along with parts and accessories, in the fashion of a standard shop. Additionally, they have inspiring local and international art and charity-based community partnerships.
As I’m yet to find my professional set here in town and still low on funds, my intent in visiting The Common Wheel was to birthday gift my partner with a quality acoustic motorbike on the cheap. Jason shows me into the back room, loaded with donations in varying states of repair, and I’m guided through the stacks until I select an old, blue Schwinn Suburban cruiser to restore. I wheel it out, rusty and broken, take a moment to visualize its future state of opulent and operational glory, lift and clamp it to one of the repair mounts stationed next to a long counter-wall fashioned with every tool imaginable. I’m handed a greasy, stained, pen-marked, wrinkled and torn piece of construction paper, once neon-green, that has a “Ready to Ride” repair checklist printed on it. I’m assigned to volunteer teacher-repairman Ron Danko, and away we go.
Over the course of about 12 hours in four days, Ron expertly guides me through the process of fixing “Penelope” (I’m told I must choose a name) complete. With my own two hands I learn how to disassemble, clean, repair, acute check, repaint, reassemble and tune to perfect function, this now GREAT old cruiser. During that time, I also become familiar with some of the local cycling community. To name them: 10 sundry adolescents at risk, at the very least, of phonefaceis, instead of engaged in the same learning process that I am, only as part of a Build-A-Bike course under the tutelage of Jason, Ron and two other volunteer mentors; 10 or so adults with varying degrees of expertise come to work out their issues with freely accessible repair mounts, tools and counseling; and a conversational fellow pedaling his way through town by way of Brooklyn, NY, came to get stocked on spare gear and find a connection for a shower and a couch. And when I finish it off, though the bike is worth much more, I take it home for an unbelievable $35 bike fee plus $17 for parts. Badass. Community. Resource.
A week later, I write to point you toward this place. The deepest recesses of my fingernails have finally shed the last remnants of grease and I’ve got this feeling. It’s a sense of personal knowledge and empowerment riding behind a dash of something else, a “there’s this place I go” kind of local familiarity that means so much to a Transplant like myself. So, go there. Whether you’re new or used. Get your bike fix.
The Common Wheel can be found at:
710 E. King St. in Reservoir Park, beneath the big blue water tower.
(717) 461 3386
Tuesday-Friday: 11am to 6pm
Saturday: 10am to 3pm
Sunday & Monday: Closed
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