By Katie Malia, Free Press staff
Just a few years ago the Portland Gear Hub was a mere idea, a car filled with cross-country skis and snowshoes. It all started with a simple conversation between two non-profits and old friends that wanted to work together. Several ideas were run through concerning how to get families and youth outdoors with good equipment and concerning how to fund current youth development programs.
Portland Gear Hub is a hidden diamond in Portland, ME, that not everyone knows about yet. It is located on Saint John Street, about two doors down from Margaritas, in Union Station Plaza. It is a non-profit organization that seeks to get youth outside and is full of donated outdoor gear. They started in the YMCA basement in January 2014. The general manager of the shop is Ainsley Judge. Judge has been with the shop since March 2014. This wasn’t Judge’s first job like this though, as she’s been working on bikes since she was 16 years old and has worked in other shops similar to Gear Hub all over the country.
Portland Gear Hub is also partnered with the Maine Bicycle Coalition. Anyone can just bring their bike in for repairs. They have sessions called Open Bench Time where you are able to bring your bike in, put it up on the stand and use their tools. There is a sliding scale of ten to twenty dollars an hour. Open Bench Time occurs on Sundays and Mondays, noon to 4 p.m. Anyone can come in with a concern about their bicycle and they’ll be assisted by Gear Hub employees to identify and resolve the issue. Judge said, “We’ll help you find out what’s wrong with it, show you how to fix it, why it might have happened and just give you some tips overall.” There are all sorts of folks that come into the Gear Hub, their ages range anywhere from 15 to 60 years old. Anyone there can and will offer you help, as it’s a pretty relaxed and helpful place.
Portland Gear Hub not only provides awesome products to help you get outside, they have programs to help you help yourself. They offer programs such as bike maintenance orientation nights, Open Bench Time and Wrench Night. Wrench Night serves to provide a safe, supportive environment for women, trans and femme cyclists to learn about bike maintenance. During Wrench Night, the store is closed but the shop is open. Generally mechanic shops and bike shops are male dominated, but on this night, in this shop, this is not the case. This night acts as a wonderful sort of retreat.
Another sweet program that Portland Gear Hub has generated with the Bicycle Coalition is the Bikes for All Mainers program. There is an entrance fee of twenty-five to fifty dollars, which is based on a sliding scale, and there is potentially a fee waiver available. Each session only has room for four people. Designed to provide opportunities for adults who don’t have the financial means to purchase bikes, recent American immigrants and those living in communities that don’t have proper access to public transportation, the Bikes for All Mainers program teaches bicycle safety and general maintenance. The program also allows participants to obtain volunteer positions within the communities to use their new skills and earn a refurbished bicycle along with the necessary accessories and skills needed to maintain it. Anyone who doesn’t have other means of transportation is strongly encouraged to take part in the program.
Overall the vibe of Portland Gear Hub is an approachable, safe, friendly environment. They seem to be all about the community and its members having support and access to the tools needed to be active outdoors. Portland Gear Hub is also very understanding of economic hardships and struggles and provides opportunity for sliding scales. Two of the employees, Carmen Peterson, the Gear and Bike Guru, and Ainsley Judge, the general manager, were very patient and accommodating. They seem to channel their environment. This place is a place everyone should know about and visit. Portland Gear Hub offers something that was needed, and not yet present in the other bike shops in Portland. Unfortunately most people cannot drop two thousand dollars on a new bike, but the Portland Gear Hub helps anyone understand biking and helps them get started, regardless of whether or not they make a purchase. Portland Gear Hub is a resourceful, supportive shop and can help people help themselves, especially if you really want to get into outdoor sports and bikes. Go see Ainsley and Carmen and ask them about outdoor gear and bikes down in Union Station Plaza. To find more information about Portland Gear Hub, give them a call at 207-761-7632.