Earn A Bike Program

The foundation of Blackstone Bicycle Works youth education work is the Earn-a-Bike Program, which allows kids to participate in an active business while earning their way to a bicycle. Starting with flat repair and working up, Woodlawn children, aged 8-18, learn not only how to fix and maintain their own modes of transportation, but how to conduct themselves in a busy bike shop setting. Once a child accumulates 25 hours in the shop, they can pick a bike from our refurbished selection, along with a new helmet and lock. Since 1994, the Earn-a-Bike Program has helped hundreds of Woodlawn children gain bicycle-mobility, practical skills, and self esteem.

In 2011, Blackstone Bicycle Works implemented an apron system whereby participants earn colored aprons indicating five achievement levels—gray, green, red, purple and black. These aprons function much like the colored belts in martial arts, with black signifying mastery. Youths are able to visualize their advancement through the program (from “Rookie” to “Master”), and we are more easily able to direct customers to youths who have gained the requisite skills to assist them. Moreover, those who have achieved purple and black aprons are selected for promotions, such as paid internships and paid externship positions.

The Earn-a-Bike Program is open to all children age 8-18, free of charge.

Registration forms are available below or in the shop.

Mentoring, Internships, Externships and More

We are also considering the wider context of how to prepare our youth participants for the world beyond. To that end, we have developed paid internships for black apron apprentices, a college and career readiness track and externships at neighboring bike businesses and organizations. There is also a Blackstone Youth Racing Club that competes at cyclo-cross, and Blackstone Bikes is a DFSS summer meals site.

Maalik Gardner, bicycle mechanic.
Video by Elyse Blennerhassett


Blackstone Bikes College And Career Prep Program

As a large number of our kids are reaching high school and are starting to think about their futures, Blackstone Bicycle Works launched a new set of initiatives aimed at supporting our youth through this exciting – though at times daunting – process. As an organization, Experimental Station is dedicated to ensuring that Blackstone grows with our youth, and this now means providing college and vocational guidance. With the generous support of Greer Foundation, Blackstone has been able to add college counseling and career exploration to its list of services.

Since 2013, we have been able to enroll nine of our seniors in a Kaplan ACT prep course downtown, as well as hire a part-time college counselor at the shop. Our college counselor provides group and one-on-one college advising throughout the school year.

In an effort to broaden our kids’ awareness of what types of careers and opportunities are tied into cycling on a larger scale, as of 2014 Blackstone began to team up with various Chicago-based organizations, businesses, and retailers to showcase various career paths within the cycling industry. In an effort to appeal to as many of our youth as possible, we aim to expose them to the many different avenues in which they can ‘work on bikes’ in a professional setting: construction and engineering, cycling advocacy, creative and design work, as well as more general business opportunities.

If you work in the cycling industry and would like to show a group of Blackstone youths what you do professionally, please let us know! We are always looking for new businesses partners!

Blackstone Youth Racing Club

The Blackstone Youth Racing Club’s aim is to make cyclocross bike racing an accessible option to the juniors of Blackstone Bicycle Works. The club’s primary focus is to provide training and racing support to youth, ages 10-18. Blackstone Youth Racing has three primary goals: practicing teamwork and good sportsmanship; promoting fitness and healthy lifestyle habits; and HAVING FUN! Our club is unique in the sport of cycling because it provides the opportunity for an underrepresented population in the cycling community to participate and become valued members of that community. Blackstone Youth Racing offers its members the structure required to excel on their bikes, gain self-esteem and awareness, and participate in a sport that they otherwise would not have the resources to pursue individually.

Club members must be between the ages of 10-18, a purple or black apron, and an active participant in good standing – grades must be A/B/Cs, and without disciplinary problems at school, home, or in the shop – of Blackstone Bicycle Works. Open to both boys and girls.


Registration Forms

Please bring completed forms to the shop or email them to shop@experimentalstation.org! 


BBW Summer Program Information 2017

Our program is free and is drop-in - youth may come as frequently as they wish. New participants must fill out a registration form at the bike shop and can begin at the beginning of the following month. We provide water and sunscreen!

  • June 27th-September 2nd (10 weeks)

  • Tuesday-Saturday 9am-12pm

  • Additional afternoon programming, Tuesday-Friday 1:00pm-3:30pm is for “green apron” and youth must be able to ride a bike. It takes 1-2 weeks to earn a green apron.

  • Free Meals (Tuesday-Friday): Breakfast 9-10am and Lunch 12-1pm (youth any age)

  • Delays and closures will be posted on the Experimental Station website, Bike Shop voicemail and Facebook youth page.

Daily Instruction

  • Between 10am and 12pm, youth learn all about bicycle advocacy , parts of the bicycle  and bicycle repair. Also learn business, job and teaching skills, teamwork and perseverance, as well as how to teach all the skills.  

  • On Saturdays, youth will work on their personal bicycles and (or) program bicycle that they can earn at the end of program.

  • Morning Rides: On occasion, BBW staff will organize bike rides between 10am-12:30pm as part of youth instruction. Pick up at BBW at 12:30pm. 

Sign In, Pick Up and Sign Out

  • All youth must sign in when entering the program daily.

  • All youth under age 12 must be accompanied by an approved adult or older youth (listed on Summer Program Pick Up and Sign Out Form) when leaving the program unless parents have signed a waiver allowing the youth to sign themselves out.

  • Parents may add additional approved adults or older youth in advance of pick up time.

Additional Afternoon Activities (Green Aprons and above; must be confident riding a bike)

  • Tuesday through Fridays 1pm-3:30pm. Pick up is between 3:30pm-4:00pm at Blackstone Bicycle Works. Youth cannot be picked up during the ride or activity.

  • Local bike rides with accompanying activity: Swimming at Harris Pool (Wed/Fri), Garden Camp (Thu), Art/Engineering (Tue)

  • Youth will be can participate based on their positive participation in the program.

  • On-site rainy day activities will be planned when we cannot ride bikes.

Afternoon Shadowing (Red and Purple Aprons)

  • Tuesday-Friday 1-3:30PM.

  • 4-5 youth with Red or Purple Aprons will be allowed to stay until 3:30pm to shadow staff and higher level aprons as they serve customers and repair bicycles.

Field Trips (Green Aprons and above)

  • Field trips will be scheduled throughout the summer, primarily on Fridays.

  • Special permission slips will be required and will be distributed one week in advance.

  • In some cases, trips will be limited to specific age groups or apron levels.

Lead Program Staff:

Damian X. Lee, Program Manager, has the rare combination of youth, bicycle and business experience, which enables him to oversee and develop all aspects of our program. He grew up participating in a bike-based youth education program and then became a lead instructor. Damian’s energy and charisma pull together youth, parents, volunteers, staff, and the community in this shared project.

Charlie Rifenburg, Customer Services Coordinator/Head Mechanic, brings eight years of experience working as a mechanic in professional bike shops, most recently acting as the Service Manager coordinating their customer services. He brings a wealth of knowledge about bikes and shop operations, but also has a calm, patient demeanor that puts youth and customers at ease and allows him to draw them into the intricacies of bicycle maintenance.

DJ Fish, Youth Services Coordinator/Head Instructor, DJ comes from a background in improv comedy, most recently working on dream projects with youth at Hackstudio and developing health education programming for all ages. He has a passion for bikes and complements his youth work experience with a few years experience as a mechanic.

Questions, Contact:

Damian X. Lee, Program Manager
damian@experimentalstation.org; 773 708 1294 personal

D.J. Fish, Youth Services Coordinator/ Head Instructor
dj@experimentalstation.org; 773 241 5458

For additional assistance, contact:

Matthew Searle, Assistant Director, Experimental Station
matthew@experimentalstation.org; 773.241.6044