On a hot Sunday afternoon at the Community Outreach Garage (COG) in East Trenton, Wills Kinsley was looking for hairspray—not for his mane, but for the bike he was working on.
Sounds odd, but it’s one of many bike-fixing hacks Kinsey has learned over the years.
“When I was younger, I worked at this sweaty bicycle warehouse, and my two coworkers got fired,” explains Kinsley. “After that, they paid more attention to me and taught me a lot of different tips, including how hairspray can be used to improve bike grips, and how baby powder can be used to prevent flat tires.”
Kinsley, the director of operations at Trenton Cycling Revolution (TCR), brings those tips to the COG, a community bike garage where Trenton residents can learn how to do basic repairs for their bicycles. The COG also provides services such as bike-sharing and bike-rehoming.
Originally, TCR was founded to improve bike safety in Trenton and to organize bicycle rides around our state’s capital city. One of its events was the Tour de Trenton, which was a bike ride around the city to showcase its unique elements and history.
“The Tour de Trenton was a themed bike ride,” explains TCR board member Jun King. “We would do bike rides of historical trees, historical cemeteries and historic monuments. One of the last Tour de Trentons we did was a ‘Made in Trenton’ [ride], which is a play off of the Trenton Makes bridge. We went around old manufacturing areas in town, but also showed people what Trenton still makes; for example, Case’s Pork Roll is still in town.”
Lately, TCR has put more of a focus on the COG, which has been up and running since May. For King, a Trenton native who grew up bicycling, having a community garage in town means a lot to him.
“I was a kid who did a lot of my own bike repairs,” remembers King. “If this had existed when I was a kid, it would have made my life a lot easier. I have a lot of appreciation that this exists.”
King is a lifelong cyclist who has lived in places like Montreal, Memphis and New Haven. The cycling terrain in Trenton is different from those cities.
“Compared to other cities Trenton is relatively flat,” explains King. “West Trenton is kind of hilly, and there are hills if you look for them in the city, but for the most part Trenton is flat. There’s also a lot of access to trails, and people aren’t aware of it. You can ride from Washington Crossing to Trenton, and you can ride from Princeton or down to Bordentown all on the Delaware & Raritan Canal Path and not be on city streets.’’
Even though you can escape in nature, Trenton is still a city and if you have driven anything with wheels through any city, you know sometimes the roads aren’t in the best of shape.
“Some of the roads here are pristine and you can move along easily,” says King. “But there are other places where you have to have a gentle hold on your handlebar and pay attention to where you are going. Some of these potholes will have you landing in someone’s front yard.”
Potholes aside, some of the challenges that King sees with bicycling in Trenton involve lack of signage regarding bike lanes, parking in bike lanes, and lack of bike racks for storage.
Downtown you see a lot of bike racks,” says King. “But if you go to Chambersburg or South Trenton where there is some concentration of restaurants you could probably use some more bike racks. Again that comes with funding.”
Trenton, like other places during the pandemic, saw an uptick in bicycle riding because of COVID-19. It’s something that King notices as well, but he also notices the lack of bicycle education that comes with just starting to bike such as riding on the sidewalk instead of riding on the street.
“It seems like everyone and their mama got bikes,” says King. “You have people in spandex with their racing bikes, and then you have grandma riding around the block with their grandkids to get them out of the house. The increase of popularity also comes with frustration from other people like, ‘Why are you in the way?’ or, ‘Why are you in the street?’ We also don’t have bike lanes or community education and that creates tensions in society with different vantage points. If you don’t address that from the top down, they are just competing for the same space.”
Much like other pandemic hobbies (I didn’t even know Tiger King 2 was a thing), people moved on from biking when places started to reopen. Some of the most common issues that King sees at the garage come from basic neglect.
“The most common issues we have here are basic neglect kind of stuff,” says King. “Like people not airing out their tires or not adjusting the other things on their bikes. Stuff on bikes wears out, especially when you leave it outside for a while.
“We try to bridge the gap with a little bit of education, and we try to help people find things at home they can use to fix their bikes, even if you just use furniture polish to wipe your bike off, or use cleaner to break down the grease on the bike. We try to share that information and let people know that we aren’t judging you. How you got to where you are isn’t important to us, and we want to help in whatever way we can.”
Not only will the crew at the garage help you out, they’ll also teach you how to do your own bike repairs.
“Right now, the idea is that you walk in and put your bike on the stand,” says Kinsley. “Someone will help you out and give you recommendations on tools to use. I’d rather see someone take more time and learn the right way, than me doing it in four seconds with my muscle memory.’’
The COG is funded by grants from different organizations in Trenton. The tools are donated to the COG, and Kinsley himself has made some purchases for different bicycle parts. Right now, the services are free at the COG, but that could change in the future.
“As we grow and we offer more parts and our overhead increases, we might have a sliding scale payment option,” says Kinsley. “But right now, since our stuff is so limited, we aren’t charging.
“Bike shops make all their money from repairs and parts, and the overhead on a new bicycle is very slim. Shops live and die by the level of service they provide. The higher-end shop is making money from boutique bikes, but your average shop isn’t. We aren’t trying to replace those shops, but I do tell people how much it would cost at a bike shop, but the idea is that they are doing it themselves, and I’m not trying to charge them. But if they want to make a donation, I appreciate it.”
Kinsley enjoys the freedom that riding a bicycle provides for individuals, and with the community garage, he also enjoys empowering people to fix their bicycles.
“The moment of understanding the a-ha moment is what motivates me,” says Kinsley. “Hopefully that moment of satisfaction and empowerment sticks for people.”
The Community Outreach Garage is located on 601 N Clinton Ave. in Trenton. More information on hours, donations and programs can be found here.