One Thursday afternoon in Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood, a group of young boys from the Hasidic Jewish community eagerly watched Juan Carlos Lorena begin his daily transformation from any garage in their neighborhood to a bicycle repair shop.
The garage is located in a quiet lane between avenue de l’Esplanade and rue Jeanne-Mance.
As Lorena opens her automatic door to reveal the dozens and dozens of bikes inside, he grins broadly at the boys’ impatience for him to take a look. their bikes.
“I am a bit of a friend to these children because they come here every day to talk to me and ask me if I can help with a little problem with their wheel, or their brakes or with a tire that is lacking air. “, he said.
Lorena often offers these small repairs for free. And it keeps the prices it charges for more complex jobs as low as possible.
He calls his boutique Vélo Talachas – talacha be Mexican slang for a makeshift repair job or the place where that repair is done.
WATCH | Vélo Talachas serves the Mile End from a rented garage:
Bicycle ballet repair
Lorena’s goal is to serve her community, which includes artists with limited means as well as large families on a low budget.
His interest in artists and their portfolios comes directly from his own experience. Until the pandemic struck, he made a living as a ballet dancer.
It was ballet that brought Lorena to Montreal four years ago. But when the pandemic put an end to live performances, he decided it was time to change careers.
A six-month government-funded bicycle repair training course was just the opportunity he needed to get a fresh start.
“I needed something that excites me and doesn’t bother me,” he says. “I also wanted to help people and not only do something for myself but also for the society around me.”
The course wasn’t even over until Lorena started offering repairs to customers.
In November, he launched a mobile service in a park near his Hochelaga – Maisonneuve apartment, meeting customers in their backyards or on the street to repair their bikes.
Then two months ago, as cyclists started to fill the streets again, Lorena opened the Mile End garage after finding the rental space through a Facebook group.
He says his wife was tired of having dozens of half-repaired bikes stacked on their balconies.
Lorena’s clients reach out to him on social media for a date or simply stop by the garage. He will let them know if he can do the repair right away or if he needs them to come back another day.
Since many of the city’s commercial bicycle stores now have waiting lists of several weeks, its low prices and quick turnaround have kept it busy.
Pierre Bocage is a retired teacher who lives 10 houses from the garage, rue Jeanne Mance.
“He’s a very nice person, he’s efficient. It doesn’t tell you that your bike needs a lot of repairs like other bike repair shops maybe have, ”he says. “He just fixes what’s wrong and that’s it.”
Rodney Handelsman also lives in Mile End, a few blocks from the garage.
“It was difficult to get all of my four young children’s motorcycles repaired,” Handelsman says. “So this is a dream come true.”
“I think I’m in better shape!
Working in the garage every afternoon, Lorena takes care of everything from small repairs to rebuilding an entire bike. It also accepts donations of broken down bikes and gives them a second life, often donating the end result to charities for children or adults who cannot afford theirs.
“When [friends] look at me now, they know i love what i do, “said Lorena.” Working out with bikes all day is tough so even though I don’t dance anymore I think I’m in better shape! “
Lorena is not sure whether to start dancing again, even if the theaters will reopen. But he says his goal was never to open a store when he started the bicycle repair training course.
He wants to continue to focus on the community service side of the business, and perhaps expand it with more mechanics who want to support both cycling and recycling, as he does, and contribute to a a better and greener world.