Village Wrench aims to get more people on bikes
West Greenville’s Village Wrench is a full-service bike shop with a charitable spin. Like other area shops, customers can come in to buy a rig to suit their needs or have their daily rider tuned up. But for those who can’t open their wallets, Village Wrench offers a unique earn-a-bike program, where community service hours translate directly into dollars to get them out on two wheels.
“People can do community service hours not just with us but at pretty much anywhere in town that offers community service opportunities. As long as they get a supervisor to sign off on those hours, they can bring it back to us, and we can help them turn that into a bike without having to put any money down,” explains Jack Cheney, Village Wrench’s shop manager.
His team got 150 people on bikes last year alone through the earn-a-bike program, racking up well over 1,000 hours of service locally.
The Village Wrench was born out of Mill Village Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit built on elevating the community in Greenville, just south of a decade ago.
“[Our origin story is] very organic,” Cheney said. “While doing food share distribution, kids would show up on bikes [with] flat tires or broken chains, and the people who were doing the distribution were avid cyclists themselves because it’s Greenville. They would help these kids get their bikes up and running, and it ended up [turning into] the free bike repair program.”
“We continue to build that, and everything else just kind of blossomed from it,” he says.
Village Wrench Programs
The free bike repair program takes place on the first Saturday of every month at six area locations in Greenville, Taylors, Travelers Rest, and Spartanburg.
Village Wrench also hosts six-week youth education programs dubbed Six Cycle a few times a year, teaching 8th to 10th graders bike skills and character strength. Students in the First Gear program learn safe riding and basic bike maintenance skills; those who advance to Second Gear learn the ins and outs of how to work with customers and run a bike shop.
“There’s some life skills thrown in there, too,” Mill Village Community Director Rhonda Rawlings notes to Cheney.
“Yeah, like, you smashed a knuckle. Wrap a Band-Aid on it. Let’s keep going. We’re okay? Cool. Let’s get through it,” he says.
While Greenville is, to many, a cycling epicenter —inclusive of but expanding well beyond the popular Swamp Rabbit Trail—Rawlings and Cheney highlight that tuning up bikes doesn’t just keep the fun rolling. In a city without much public transportation infrastructure, bikes are how many get to and from work.
“So many people don’t have access to a car, and sometimes the buses don’t run late enough to get you back home,” Rawlings says. “We see a lot of people come in who are reliant on a bicycle as their main mode of transportation. They come into the shop and they’re familiar with Jack, and he has such a great rapport while getting them where they need to be to live their lives.”
Cheney hopes to even show folks who do have access to a car that with bikes, our culture of reliance on cars isn’t necessary.
“Compared to other places I’ve lived, Greenville’s cycling infrastructure is really awesome, but the bar of American cycling infrastructure just isn’t a high one. It’s hard to tell people that they can just use a bike for everything [without the infrastructure] . . . but [I’m] trying to reinforce the culture that bikes can often get you where you need to go, especially with Six Cycle students.
“[Bikes are] way more affordable than cars. And cities putting in the infrastructure is one half the equation. The other half is actually fostering the people who want to use it,” he says.
For more information about Village Wrench, go to villagewrench.org.