‘Location, location, location’: Bike Walk Wichita unveils new downtown headquarters
The nonprofit focuses on making alternative forms of transportation accessible and appealing in Wichita.
The front brake of a red bike Cody Custer is working on doesn’t sound quite right.
Woosh. Woosh. Woosh.
As the manager of Bike Walk Wichita’s repair shop, Custer helps refurbish donated bikes so that the brakes make the right sound – so “you don’t hear that woosh woosh woosh.”
“That’s the sound when it’s not right,” Custer said. “That rub means it’s out of alignment.”
The ReCycle Bike Repair Shop, as it’s known, does things a little differently. Anyone with a broken two-wheeler can walk in and use its tools for free, with Custer or other volunteers on-hand to help.
Plus, the shop has hundreds of bikes – from a teensy pink Barbie one to a hefty white Mongoose – available for reduced prices and, in some cases, even zero dollars.
The nonprofit is dedicated to making alternative forms of transportation accessible and appealing in Wichita. And its leaders say they’ve seen a growing demand for their ReCycle program since it opened about a decade ago — so much so that they recently moved into a space twice as large as their former one.
“When we first started, we wondered where are we going to get the bikes?” said Kim Neufeld, executive director of Bike Walk Wichita. “Now our biggest challenge is where are we going to put the bikes?”
The organization moved into the 7,500-square-foot building on Second and St. Francis last fall. It’s about twice as big as its former space on Laura Street.
Neufeld said they had maxed out every square foot of the former property. Alongside hundreds of bikes – the organization gave away 732 in 2022 – the nonprofit had buckets of bike parts, from brake levers to grips to bar extensions.
But she wasn’t sure her small nonprofit would be able to afford a new building, much less in the heart of downtown.
“Because we didn't have a budget up front, we were beat out of every deal,” Neufeld said.
In 2021, a real estate agent working with Bike Walk Wichita knocked on the door of the St. Francis building, just hoping to look around. The owner, Stan Gegen, told them it wasn’t for sale, but they were welcome to take a peek.
But the timing was fortuitous because Gegen’s printing business was downsizing. When Bike Walk returned with an offer, Gegen said he had to consider it. And once he learned more about the nonprofit’s mission, he went through with it. He even donated part of the building.
“My wife and I were both impressed with the dedication,” Gegen said. “… Recycling bikes, putting bikes together for homeless people, for kids, for anybody that needed a bike.”
For Neufeld, the serendipity didn’t stop at the sale. The building sat at the perfect intersection.
“Location, location, location,” Neufeld said. “On one side we have Wave, we have Cocoa Dolce, Nifty Nuthouse, Groover Labs, a lot of businesses and places that residents are very comfortable coming to. And then we turn the street on Second Street, and we have a lot of the social agencies that we work with.”
That includes organizations like United Methodist Open Door. About half of the bike repair shop’s volunteers are experiencing homelessness, Neufeld said. Biking is the primary form of transportation for many of them. Fifteen volunteer hours can be exchanged for a free bike from the shop.
The nonprofit also stocks a corner of the shop with free grab-and-go necessities, like hygiene products, sleeping bags and backpacks full of food.
In this sense, the new location is not just a building. For Bike Walk Wichita, it’s an investment in the downtown community and the people who live there. One of their first steps after moving in was meeting with neighbors to learn about community challenges. Lighting turned out to be one of them.
“The first thing we did is started to install some outdoor lights,” Neufeld said. “And we had one resident knock on the door the other day, and he said, ‘This is the first time in 20 years that there's been light on this sidewalk.’”
Neufeld has big dreams for energizing the entire neighborhood. She wants to paint murals on the building, put shade space outside and add a place where food trucks can park.
“We want to turn this into a really vibrant community active center,” Neufeld said. “And so we'll be definitely working to ensure there's some benches, good lighting, things that are going to invite people … to come and visit these businesses that are trying to build this area kind of as an entertainment art district.”