The Basement Bikes bicycle collective in Mannheim is a point of contact for people who love riding a bicycle and need either a new bike or a reasonably priced used one, or whose bike just needs repair. The four owners are happy to assist you help in this endeavour. Nurturing a sense of community matters much more to them than aspirations of big business.

Sami is cursing. The rear wheel of his bike is jammed and won’t come off. He shakes it, but nothing happens. Hannes Stockmar observes the scene and waits a moment. When he senses that Sami is not making any progress he approaches him and shows him where he needs to place his grip. “Ah,” Sami realizes, soon holding the wheel in his hand. He can now reach the mudguard that has been rattling for so long and attach it better with a new bolt—with the assistance of Sunny.

Fixing, repairing, talking—the repair group that meets on Wednesdays.

Sami and Sunny are part of the group that meets in the Basement Bikes repair shop on Wednesdays. The seven youngsters work on their own bikes when they get a puncture or the chain sags—or when the mudguard rattles. They also make used bicycles roadworthy again. “Most of these bikes were donated. We repair them and pass them on to families in need,” says Hannes, one of the owners of Basement Bikes. He looks after the repair group together with Jakob Rehfeld, who works at the AGFJ Familienhilfe-Stiftung foundation that offers assistance to families. The repair group is an offer to youngsters that are supported by the foundation.

The kitchen—good coffee matters to Nico, Hannes, Manuel and Arne (from left) almost as much as bicycles.

It is one of the many projects the go-getting bike shop in the Mannheim-Jungbusch neighbourhood runs. Apart from Hannes, who has a degree in social education, Arne Große Hülsewiesche works there as a social worker; as well as Manuel Wilke, who has a degree in psychology and Nico Netzer, a trained bike mechanic. The idea was initially carried out in a basement, as the name still indicates. Nico worked there on his own, fiddling about, while he worked in a repair shop converting motorbikes as his main job. That shop, however, went bankrupt and he was unemployed for a while. “I asked the employment centre what I should do to stop them writing me annoying letters,” Nico says and laughs. They answered: become self-employed. “I thought to myself: ‘Well, I’ll fix bicycles for people. Bicycles are much cooler anyway.’” He founded Basement Bikes in 2009.

Business went well. The repair shop quickly became self-sustaining and Nico wanted to get out of his basement. He found what he was looking for just a few backyards away in Werftstraße road. A few years later he met Hannes, who was studying at the time, at a Bike-Polo game. Nico asked him if he’d like to join him in his shop. Hannes agreed and started to work at Basement Bikes alongside his studies. “It consumed more and more of my time.” And he decided to go all in and combine social work with fixing bikes. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” he says and smiles.

Wir nehmen uns Zeit, gemeinsam eine Lösung zu finden, mit der dann auch die Kunden zufrieden sind

Nico Netzer

The Wednesday’s repair group has been meeting since 2014. The group’s equipment is financed by donations. It’s actually two groups, one after the other. The members really like it. They start off by playing a game of football on the roof of the Jungbuschhalle building, located just across the road from Basement Bikes, together with the group leaders. They also use the time to talk about things other than just bicycles. And they learn handy repair skills that they can even pass on to others later. It feels good “to see working what you have repaired yourself,” says Andrei. And this is exactly what Hannes wants to achieve: provide opportunities for the youngsters to experience everyday-life successes and feel self-efficacy.

Fixed and ready to go—the youngsters leave the repair shop having experienced an everyday-life success.

Basement Bikes is a lot about doing it yourself. There’s a Do-It-Yourself day every Thursday afternoon where anyone who wants to fix their bike themselves can take a seat in the repair shop—for a fee, of course. Tools and professional instructions are included. Basement Bikes also carries out regular free bike checks on behalf of the city authority or private companies. Workshops on special topics such as brakes or gears are offered as well. You can also work on your own balance bike. Who comes to the shop? “People from all walks of life!” Everybody is welcome here—no matter how much money you bring or how old and rickety your bike is or how scarce your repair skills are. “As cyclists, we know what it feels like when you go into a shop and get the feeling that they just want to sell you something,” Arne says. With their own shop they want to make a difference providing honest and undogmatic advice.

Everybody is offered assistance, no matter how much they know about bikes.

Arne joined the team in 2013. He has known Hannes for quite a while. “I have always fixed bikes at home. One day, Hannes just asked me if I fancy joining the team. I was on-board soon after.” And Arne brought Manuel who ran a bicycle repair shop for refugees as a side hustle alongside his psychology studies. Manuel was interested in joining the team as well and Basement Bikes didn’t hesitate at all. Since then it has been the four of them. There is no boss. They have been equal business partners since 2018. Cihan Ilhanlian additionally joins the team twice a week, but as an employee.

Come in! 

A creaky wooden door leads the way to the interior of Basement Bikes. Bicycles are everywhere. New and old ones, entire and disassembled ones. The brick walls are only roughly plastered. Bicycle tyres hang from the ceiling and bicycle forks from the walls. Tools are all over the place. Full, yet well organised. And the place is really welcoming. A cosy little corner with a sofa is located next to the counter with a homemade lamp and plants hanging above it. A wood-burning stove in the corner provides warmth. It’s still cool in the mornings at this time of the year, and there is no heating radiator in this backyard building. It is a place of encounter in the Jungbusch district—just as much as for customers as it is for people who just want to pop in for a chat.

Basement Bikes has been selling new bikes for a few years as well. However, these tend to be more expensive, in contrast to the used ones. “We didn’t want to sell cheap bikes that would be worn out after two seasons,” Nico explains their idea. Sustainability is important to the four partners. “These bikes here are really durable.” There is a small range of children’s and cargo bikes, too. And there are racing bikes and electric bikes, and even one-offs on request. “We customise bikes, tailored to individual needs—be it new or used ones,” Manuel says. Basement Bikes is also the right place to go if you’re looking for a spare part for your beloved heirloom. “We always try to make everything possible,” Arne says.

Even the (almost) impossible is made possible in this repair shop.

The business has reduced its opening hours in the shop to two days a week. “Otherwise, we don’t get round to doing the repair work,” Manuel explains.  Basement Bikes is particularly busy in March and April as soon as the spring sun comes out. More than 20 new orders come in per opening day then. The backyard is always crowded and customers may have to be patient. Slipshod work is not a concept that the four partners support. “We prefer to take the time to find a solution, that actually satisfies customers,” Nico explains and the others nod in assent. It is a bicycle collective that loves nothing more than to inspire people to get on their bicycle.


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