In Working Condition: Behind the Scenes with the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) at the Recycle-A-Bicycle Warehouse

Architect. Quantum physicist. Biomedical engineer. The future looks bright for the high school students of the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) at the Recycle-A-Bicycle Long Island City warehouse, where Bike New York staff members Sera Erickson and Eric Robinson recently taught bicycle mechanics to 10 new “employees.”


Recycle-A-Bicycle partners with Jacob Riis Neighborhood Settlement Houses, which recruits students for and manages multiple SYEP sites. SYEP participants are all New York City residents between the ages of 14 and 24; they earn money over the summer and build their résumés with good work experience. Recycle-A-Bicycle works with a subset of 14-16 year olds, many of whom have no work experience. They come to the LIC warehouse three times a week for six weeks in the summer.



Robinson, who grew up in Bed-Stuy tinkering and working on bicycles, hopes to instill discipline in his employees and ignite a passion for bicycles and creativity. Erickson, meanwhile, came to Recycle-A-Bicycle having started a bicycle co-op in her hometown of Richmond and, as a woman working in a career field dominated by men, is a role model for the female student employees. (Sadly, for us, she recently announced she’ll be moving back to Richmond very soon.)



A typical day for the employees begins with an hour of Earn-A-Bike. Earn-A-Bike gives the employees hands-on experience overhauling a bike they will get to call their own. Jayson, who hopes to become a scientist, says, “my most memorable moment is actually working on the bike for the first time, learning how to change the gears, taking it apart, and then learning how to put it back together.” He plans to use his new bike to get around the city.



After Earn-A-Bike, they transition into activities like Cycle Craft. Adrian, another employee, says he enjoys Cycle Craft the most because “you get to build bracelets out of broken parts.” He made a phone holder for himself and “a few blinged-out bracelets.” For the last part of the day, the employees work together in groups to overhaul different parts of a bike that will be sent to Recycle-A-Bicycle’s shop in DUMBO to be sold. Within a couple hours, the groups finish their respective tasks and celebrate the successful overhaul of another bike—with each student gaining new skills and experience in the process.

—Pio Tsai, Bike New York Community Outreach Coordinator