Learning how to ride a bike is a rite of passage and Brian and Maria Sink are on a mission to ensure no child misses out on the freewheeling fun.
In 2013, the couple started Red Lantern Bicycles out of a shipping container in Braddock. Since then, the nonprofit organization has refurbished and redistributed nearly 10,000 used bikes (and new helmets) to kids throughout the region. They also sell affordably priced bikes for adults, offer repairs for nominal fees and hold bike maintenance classes.
The name Red Lantern is a nod to the rider who crosses the finish line last in the 2,000-mile Tour de France. The athlete is awarded the Lanterne Rouge as a tribute to their perseverance. The Sinks want all riders to feel that same sense of accomplishment when they’re on two wheels.
Maria Sink, who works for the Allegheny County Health Department, and Brian Sink, manager of Aspinwall’s Allegheny RiverTrail Park, know the value of a bike extends far beyond recreation. Biking is also good for the environment and your health.
The number of cyclists surged during the pandemic, which resulted in severe bike shortages and price hikes. With soaring gas prices and warmer temperatures, the need for bikes is gearing up again.
On Sunday, March 20, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the organization will hold a donation drive at the new Red Lantern Bike Shop and Opportunity Hub at 125 Shaw Ave. in Turtle Creek. They’re accepting new and used bikes of any size, along with parts and tools. They’re always looking for volunteers who enjoy fixing flat tires and performing tune-ups.
Starting April 7, the Hub will be open Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for donation drop-offs and repairs.
“We don’t want anyone to feel awkward or intimidated coming into our bike shop,” says Maria Sink. “We want bicycling to be accessible to all.”
In 2021, the couple launched a GoFundMe campaign to help transform the former Calvary United Church of Christ in Turtle Creek into a full-fledged bicycle repair shop and teaching facility. The building, which is still a work in progress, also houses a commercial kitchen, thrift store and chapel, where the Sinks plan to host community events.
The idea for Red Lantern was sparked by Brian Sink’s involvement in Free Ride Pittsburgh, a bike repair collective in Point Breeze adjacent to Construction Junction. Along with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, then-mayor of Braddock, Brian spent a lot of free time plucking children’s bikes (16 inches and under) out of the trash and donating them to Free Ride.
Eventually, all of the tiny bikes — many boasting superhero and princess themes — were moved into a shipping container at 420 Braddock Ave., where Brian would repair them and hold a monthly kids bike giveaway event. Even with the opening of the Red Lantern Bike Shop and Opportunity Hub, monthly giveaways will continue to take place in Braddock. The first one of the season will be held in April. Check Instagram for updates.
“We see bikes as a connection to the community,” Maria Sink says. “Most children have positive memories of riding a bike. We don’t want money to be a hindrance.”