A Passion for Biking Comes Full Circle at Martin’s Point

Posted 04/20/22
Adults and kids gathering around bikes at Portland Gear Hub

As a youngster in Ireland, James Whelan reached the height of his sport, riding to three national championships in road and track cycling and representing his country on the international stage. After emigrating to the U.S. and progressing through a number or roles at Martin’s Point to become Manager of Member Operations, James is channeling his loves for bikes and cycling in a different way, that’s just as – or maybe even more – fulfilling. 

Once or twice a month, James volunteers at Portland Gear Hub, a local nonprofit that provides affordable bikes to Mainers. Their mission to boost biking for recreation and transportation for all couldn’t be more in tune with James’ love of cycling.  

“Cycling can be seen as a privileged sport, as it’s not cheap,” says James, who finds time to ride 10 hours a week and is preparing for events in Vermont and Kansas this season. “The Gear Hub takes equipment donations, then refurbishes and reuses it. Whether they sell it at the store, or donate through their programs, it removes the barrier for many to cycling.” 

Rebuilds for young bikers

A typical Saturday morning finds James helping other volunteers sort through road worn Treks and Schwinns. They figure out which to salvage for parts and which to repair and pass on. Then they get to work, replacing chains, brakes, and inner tubes, and coaxing stubborn gears back to life. 

“It’s awesome to help share what little knowledge I have, while doing something I regard as fun. I never see it as work,” says James. 

Portland Gear Hub also runs a Bike School, where kids can learn simple maintenance from a pro like James and do their own repairs using the School’s tools. Last summer James pitched in at a Kids Bike Party event, where kids learn basic skills and safety to earn a new helmet and refurbished bike — for free. 

“We gave out 75 bikes, at no cost to local kids ages 3 to 11. It was amazing, and for some kids this was their first bike, which made it even better.”

Sharing skills, learning lessons
Like many volunteers, James often feels he gains as much as he gives by being involved. “Portland Gear Hub and the MANP Emerging Leaders program — which I also did through MPHC — have made me more aware of my privilege and the skills I have learned that I can give back to others. It has opened my eyes that I can do a lot more to give back, both financially, and giving my time through volunteer work.” 

That work doesn’t go unappreciated. “James jumped right in and made folks feel welcome,” recalls Sara Ramirez from Portland Gear Hub about James’ first day at the Kids Bike Party. “Now he helps other volunteers navigate disassembling bikes and gain mechanical skills. It's been great to have him as a part of our volunteer leadership team!”

Though most of James’ volunteer work takes place on weekends, soon he’ll take advantage of the MPHC volunteer paid time off benefit to volunteer during the week. “I’ve been very fortunate to land here [at Martin’s Point]. Next, we’re working with two groups from Lyman Moore Middle School, teaching them the basics of bike maintenance. It’s going to be great.” 

Learn more about Portland Gear Hub by visiting https://portlandgearhub.org/.