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Southwest Rides Detroit exterior
The exterior of Southwest Rides in Detroit. All photos in this piece by Nick Hagen.

Sometimes businesses in Detroit come from other places. Some are grown in start-up incubators, some pop up spontaneously, and others grow organically and fill a need in the community. Southwest Rides, which opened on June 19, fills the need for a bike shop in Southwest Detroit.

Six years ago Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI) connected a young person who wanted to learn about bikes with a community member who volunteered to teach the skills. The program grew into a six week earn-a-bike program in “the garage” on Longworth street where youth members in the community could attend bike workshops twice a week.

Each workshop was geared (pun intended) toward teaching kids about bike maintenance or repairs, such as fixing a flat. If a participant logged 30 hours of “sweat-equity,” then they got to keep the bike at the end of the six weeks.

Isaac Gilman, Southwest Rides. Photo by Nick Hagen

“Really, what we’re trying to do is offer young people opportunities to learn how to run businesses, and we are using bike and skateboard retail as the vehicle for that.” – Isaac Gilman, Southwest Rides

As the program strengthened, local residents began to ask if they could buy a bike or bring a bike in to be serviced. It became clear that there was a need for a bike shop. Southwest Rides calls itself a community bike shop because its still dedicated to helping the community.

“Really, what we’re trying to do is offer young people opportunities to learn how to run businesses, and we are using bike and skateboard retail as the vehicle for that,” said Isaac Gilman, a board member at Southwest Rides, “We’re really an entrepreneurship training center.”

Southwest Rides Detroit. Photo by Nick Hagen

Gilman pointed out that there are many aspects of a business besides just selling bikes that kids can gravitate toward learning about, including digital marketing, mechanics, apparel, store management, administrative tasks, and customer service.

Southwest rides entrepreneurship

Southwest Rides now sells refurbished adult bikes that were donated, and they mostly keep kid-sized bikes for programming (they are re-launching the earn-a-bike program out of the shop shortly). Southwest Rides is also working with parts distributors and is focusing on rebuilding and customizing affordable bikes for their customers.

Additionally, the shop is working on partnering with a skateboard distributor and has some skateboards in stock. Gilman said that skateboards are another popular pastime for kids in the neighborhood, so it’s naturally a good fit for the store.

Inside the Southwest Rides store

Bicycles and boards are available. Service packages are listed on the wall of the stores.

Southwest Rides is a subsidiary of UNI and is an L3C, or low-profit limited liability company. This allows it to function as a business while still maintaining a focus on social good and enabling it to accept funding for the youth programming side of the operation.

Since having a good set of wheels ranks high on any kid’s priority list, Southwest Rides is an inspiring and important community oriented business in Detroit. If you are interested in purchasing or donating a bike at Southwest Rides, check their website for the open hours.

All photos by Nick Hagen. (CCBYNC) Nick Hagen and Daily Detroit.