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Bike-based nonprofit The Common Wheel set to open location in Columbia

  • By Kevin Stairiker/LNP | LancasterOnline
Kayla Layng, left, works with Javien Granthon on the hub of a bicycle wheel inside The Common Wheel 701 E. King St. in Lancaster city Tuesday, May 14, 2024.

 Blaine Shahan / LNP | LancasterOnline

Kayla Layng, left, works with Javien Granthon on the hub of a bicycle wheel inside The Common Wheel 701 E. King St. in Lancaster city Tuesday, May 14, 2024.

Face scrunched with concentration, 19-year-old Lancaster city resident Alyssa Foreacre leans in for a close inspection of the hub of a bicycle wheel.

She’s inspecting the cup and cone bearings on her bike for potential dirt or debris. These parts are important because they will determine how smoothly the wheels will turn.

With the bearings looking good, Foreacre takes up two hand wrenches, one to turn the cone and another to keep the locknut in place, to begin reassembly.

Finding the exact tightness is a science unto itself, so thankfully helpers were on hand to assist Foreacre in figuring out the process. With the bearings in place, Foreacre carefully re-attaches her wheels.

After about an hour’s worth of practice, Foreacre dutifully hung her bike up on a standing rack, ready for her next lesson.

While bicycle maintenance is the immediate task, the reward for Foreacre and the 450-some youngsters who have been through the Earn-A-Bike program during the past 10 years is much broader. The bike they receive – and now know how to maintain – is the key to entering a community of like-minded friends and mentors focused on health recreation who orbit The Common Wheel Co-op, a Lancaster County nonprofit bicycling education and advocacy organization.

Since its founding in 2014, the Common Wheel has established two physical locations in Lancaster city –  Foreacre and five others were learning maintenance and earning their bikes Tuesday at 701 E. King St., a repurposed water pumping station that serves as a donation center and classroom. Retail sales and events are held at its Community Center and Shop, 324 N. Queen St.

And today, the organization takes a big leap – evidence of its popularity and growth – by holding a public open house at a new physical location in Columbia that will open full time next month and bring programming like Earn-A-Bike to many more.

The programming can be transformative, as Foreacre anticipates.

“I want to find a community to get involved with, and (The Common Wheel) has weekly rides and a camping trip in the summer,” said Foreacre, with tools and a bike wheel in hand. “Plus, if I learn to fix bikes, then I can fix up all of my family’s bikes, too.”

The concept of an Earn-a-Bike program dates back to before Common Wheel’s existence, but the details of the process are similar to other programs across the country. Over four weeks and eight classes, groups of kids are introduced to each facet of bicycle maintenance piece by piece, with the help of two Common Wheel employees. At the beginning, participants choose from a set of donated bikes, and by the time the course is over, the kids will ideally take part in the first test ride of their new bikes.

Common Wheel Executive Director Adriana Atencio said that roughly 1,000 bikes are donated to the organization yearly, with that number hopefully increasing with the addition of the Columbia location.

Preston Lehman, 19, of Willow Street, has seen the program from every angle, having first taken part in Earn-a-Bike back in 2018. Six years later, he is still with The Common Wheel, now helping to facilitate Earn-a-Bike sessions for the next generation of riders. He estimates that he has overseen at least 30 Earn-a-Bike sessions thus far.

“Back then (in 2018), I was just getting into mountain biking, and I wanted to learn more about maintaining my bike,” Lehman said. “I thought it was really cool that you get to learn about fixing a bike and then you get to keep it at the end.”

On Tuesday night, Lehman and fellow employee Kayla Layng moseyed back and forth between the six current participants, careful to thread the needle between offering instruction and allowing the kids to learn on their own.

“Not too tight, not too loose, that’s how we like it!” Layng told the class as they worked on tightening their respective bikes’ bearings. At the end of each session, Layng and Lehman help the kids fill out progress sheets that detail an approximation of the labor costs that they would have paid had they taken their bikes to a shop as opposed to fixing them up themselves. According to Lehman, a full tune-up costs around $185, not including the new parts that are often used.

“We hear from a lot of employers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) that kids these days are good at being mechanics, but their soft skills aren’t as developed because they’re stuck in their phones,” explained Atencio. “Part of how we go about that is having them learn by doing and teaching. That’s how they continue to build STEM skills.”

The Common Wheel in Columbia, the third location for the Lancaster County bike-based nonprofit, will hold an open house Friday at 137 Locust St., Columbia.


The Common Wheel in Columbia, the third location for the Lancaster County bike-based nonprofit, will hold an open house Friday at 137 Locust St., Columbia.

Expansion plan executed

Earn-a-Bike, along with other popular programs including the adult mechanic class and the youth bike workshop, will soon also be available at The Common Wheel’s new location in Columbia. After a year of work that included everything from choosing the location to clearing out the old Lazy K Lounge at 137 Locust St., the third Common Wheel is set to hold an open house on today at 6:30 p.m., followed by a public opening on a date to be determined in the following weeks.

“We are so excited to have The Common Wheel come to Columbia,” said Columbia Mayor Leo Lutz via email. “They will provide an activity coupled with a learning experience for our youth who may never be exposed to working with their hands, understanding gears and bearings. Not only is the Common Wheel providing an activity and learning experience, but they have taken a vacant condemned property in our downtown and turned it into a beautiful business space.”

The project was made possible through various grants, including $25,000 from Armstrong World Industries Foundation, $25,000 from High Foundation and a $20,000 “Level Up and Launch” grant from the United Way of Lancaster County.

Atencio said that the nonprofit could have simply hired a contractor and had the project done in two months, but to mirror programs like Earn-a-Bike, The Common Wheel relied on a mix of volunteers, apprentices and employees to turn the renovation project into a learning experience.

One such apprentice, Bekah Sensenig, 22, of Ronks, got the gig through Common Wheel’s partnership with state-funded employment program Careerlink PA. In her roughly two months of apprenticeship, Sensenig did a variety of tasks including hanging drywall, installing electrical outlets and getting good enough at installing vinyl plank flooring that she was eventually teaching other volunteers.

“I always enjoy doing stuff with my hands, I want to do something in renovation or small house projects, sort of like a handyman type thing for people in my area, serving people how I can,” Sensenig said.

One important detail of the former Lazy K Lounge will survive in the new Common Wheel – the bar top will serve as the location for the POS (point of sale) system.

Atencio says that, with its proximity to the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia, the Columbia Borough School District and the Columbia Crossing River Trail, the new Common Wheel is well-positioned to serve the community at large. Atencio has a personal connection, as various members of her extended family have lived in the borough over the years.

“We want to be the best neighbors that we can be,” Atencio said. “We’ve heard from people that sometimes businesses come to Columbia, it gets hard, and then they up and leave Columbia. That’s not our intention. We’re used to going through hard things.”

To learn more about upcoming Earn-a-Bike sessions and other programs in Lancaster city and Columbia, visit  

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