It was a beautiful Tuesday morning and Kerri Martin, a bank employee on Wall Street, couldn’t wait to spend some of it on her bicycle. She pedaled through Manhattan on her way to work, soaking in the brilliant sunshine and crisp fall air. As she wheeled onto a Hudson River pier, stopping for a minute to admire the cloudless blue sky, a plane caught her eye. That looks low, she thought, like it’s going to hit that building. Moments later, she watched the plane smash into the World Trade Center.
“Like anyone, after September 11, I started to re-evaluate my life,” Martin, a 1994 graduate of the college, says now. Her office temporarily moved from the World Financial Center to Westchester, N.Y. When its Manhattan building reopened the following spring, “I decided not to go,” she says. “I liked my life in New York, but I always knew it wasn’t exactly for me — I always knew there was something else.”
She turned to her trusty bicycle for inspiration, first toting it across the country to Colorado, Seattle and Portland, and then landing a job fixing bikes in a Brielle, N.J., shop. In 2006, she started an earn-a-bike program based out of a church’s garage; today, under the name Second Life Bikes, it lives on in a sweeping 7,500-square-foot space in Asbury Park.
“Usually the cheapest bike in a bike shop is $500,” Martin says. “I was seeing the need for more affordable repairs and more affordable bikes. I wasn’t sure if this concept could work in a smaller town, but the answer five years later is yes, yes, yes.”
At Second Life Bikes, cycle repairs run from $2 up and used, refurbished bikes start around $50 for an adult ride and $20 for a child-sized cycle. Kids from the local community grease chains and fix flat tires alongside Martin, and after 15 hours working in the shop, they’ve earned a bike of their own. Martin estimates she’s given away some 800 bikes so far.
The shop has become a staple in the community, drawing visitors from “every walk of life, every income bracket, every ethnicity,” Martin says. From bicycle-inspired art shows to parties, parades and cycling trips, “we are truly a community hub.”
She also sees her young assistants develop strong leadership skills, a work ethic and mechanical know-how along the way to earning their bikes. “There are kids who couldn’t look you in the eye on their first day, but now I see them helping customers and telling their friends, ‘This is where I work,’” she says.
As for her own love of bikes, Martin admits it has nothing to do with saving gas or burning calories. “People always say to me, ‘You’re such a good environmentalist,’ but that’s not what I think about when I get on my bike,” she says. “Biking never gets boring. It can take you so many different places and it’s a sport you can do your whole life. I just think it’s fun.”