Culture

Helping NICA student-athletes find careers in the bike industry

How one teacher is connecting kids with bike shops and companies for learning and jobs in the bicycling industry.

In its third year, the NICA-supported Camden County Composite Team has everything it needs, and coach Joe Brescia likes it that way. Programs, tents, racks, and a trailer for races — the team of 23 middle- and high school students in Pennsylvania are set. And should the young riders want to get a job in the bike industry, Brescia has put that option in place, too.

Brescia is a high school robotics and engineering teacher who also works at a local bike shop in Philadelphia, which provides indoor space and supplies for student clinics on just how to service their own bikes. Enter a new growth aspect for NICA student-athletes: the possibility of a career in the bike industry.

“It happens every time we put on a bike maintenance clinic at the shop,” Brescia says. “You have some that tune out, because all they want to do is ride. But then you see these kids that jump right in, curious about how to set up a shock, how to adjust a derailleur, how things actually work.”

For those inclined to be a part of the bike industry as shop mechanics or sales staff, Brescia feeds the interest. In an effort to be shop-agnostic and open opportunities for his riders, he introduces his student-athletes to all the local shops.

“We’re doing our best to introduce ourselves as a NICA team, but also to introduce the kids,” Brescia says. “We’ve taken them to REI, small shops, and a few have gotten their first jobs at these shops. For them, it makes more sense than what a lot of them are doing working at restaurants as dishwashers and busboys.”

Riley riding
Riley Halstead / Photo: Courtesy NICA

Brescia’s centerpiece student-athlete has been high school junior Riley Halstead. “In the beginning, he was doing a bit of everything, but then he got into the mechanical aspect, and just shined,” he says. “Working in a shop isn’t easy; it’s an unsanitized experience, with bosses that will deliver tough love. But for some like Riley, it works perfectly. He’s a great kid and puts so much time and effort into it. It really provides a bit of a family.”

Halstead said he hopes to make it a lifetime career. “When I first started in the bike industry, the shop manager said ‘if you can change a flat in six minutes, you’ve got the job.’ I changed it in four minutes,” Halstead says. “The shop I’m at now has a mechanic named Stanley that has been teaching me everything — building wheels, fork rebuilds. Riding is my entire life and I’d love to be a pro cross-country racer, but I’d love to wrench for a pro team, or even become an engineer at a big company, working in the industry, coming up with new stuff.”

Brescia continues to feed the interest taking his riders to the Philadelphia Bike Expo — “they’re able to go table to table, asking questions about programs that some companies provide” — or encouraging girls on his NICA team to apply to Quality Bike Components, which instituted a mechanical skills clinic for girls. “I have a girl in the sixth grade, just a teeny thing, but she’s just killing it,” Brescia says. “She’s there at every maintenance clinic, every trail day, every practice.”

“It opens students’ minds,” Brescia says. “The shops are realizing if the kids are willing to learn, they’re willing to teach.”

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