Laura Ospin, Contributing Photographer

John Martin describes himself as “just a kid trying to do cool stuff and have fun.” Since 2015, Martin’s pet project has been helping run the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op, a community bike shop that fixes, donates and sells about 600 bikes each year. 

Striving to bring “equitable” biking to New Haven, the co-op receives donated bikes, fixes them and sells half of the bikes and donates the other half back into the community. The co-op also lends out its tools to allow residents to fix their own bikes for cheap. After seven years of running the shop, Martin will leave the co-op in December and take a six-month “sabbatical” from New Haven.

For Martin, the most special memories at the co-op are found in his daily routine. 

“[The most memorable moments are] making friends with people across the city in all different walks of life who I support and they support me,” Martin said. “Whether it’s going to court with a kid who volunteers a bunch and just being there for him, or getting invited to a birthday party, or going for bike rides with people.” 

But Martin said that for an organization to be sustainable in the long-term, the founder needs to “transition out” of leadership. Prioritizing on his mental health played an important factor, as Martin said that he experienced “stress” and “burnout” as a business owner during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The co-op stayed open throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to serve those still working and using bikes as transportation, as well as to those seeking to leave their houses. While Martin views the co-op’s services as necessary, he acknowledged that worrying about spreading COVID-19 in the community took a toll on him. 

“It’s little stuff every day, like me going to bed at night and being like, those two people were working really close together,” Martin said. “Or we didn’t get the door open right away. Or that guy marched in without a mask. We’re in our community space, and so lots of people are together. It’s on me if someone gets sick, and that was really scary.”

During his six months away from New Haven, Martin will visit family, travel the country and go biking and hiking. Martin said that he has no intention to return to his current leadership role at the co-op in the future. While he is willing to contribute by designing t-shirts, revamping the co-op newspaper or working as a mechanic, he believes that other people should lead the organization. 

In October, the co-op hired three part-time staff members to assume Martin’s responsibilities, as well as take on new projects. 

The co-op began as a community tool-sharing initiative and stemmed from a similar project run by New Haven’s Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services. Founded with two core principles, the co-op hopes to make bikes more accessible and encourage New Haven residents to spend time with other community members, according to Martin. 

“It’s really hard to spend time with people who are different than you in our life,” Martin explained. “Because our world is segregated. Our city is insanely segregated. We all live in our bubbles … [Bikes are] a way to bring us together.” 

“We’re not changing the world over here, but we’re participating and moving in the right direction,” he said.

Currently, the co-op hosts community building programs such as Chainbreakers, a women, trans and femme-only night where bike enthusiasts can come together twice a month. According to Kyle Anthony, one of the three new staff members hired last month, the co-op will work to become more “community-oriented” in the future, possibly holding movie nights and larger group bike rides. 

The co-op is also partnering with Connecticut Mental Health Center to host in-person workplace training, according to Anthony. With the goal of helping job seekers find “comfort in the workplace,” the program starts this Thursday. 

For Martin Flores, a volunteer at the co-op who moved to New Haven during the pandemic, the organization provided the community he needed during a lonely time. 

“The honesty and the transparency that all the people [at the co-op] share feels so authentic,” Flores said. “They’re just people who want to hang out, work on bikes, who share similar values about social movements and the environment … This is a group of people who are inherently good and people I want to be around because they only make me better.”

Anthony attributes the functionality and welcoming energy of the co-op to Martin’s ability to “be on” and “helpful” all the time. Similarly, Flores said that Martin always makes learning something new “accessible” without making Flores feel like it’s “out of reach.” 

While Flores believes that Martin’s departure will spark growing pains, he has seen volunteers and staff at the co-op organically stepping into leadership roles, proving that the organization can “stand on its own.”

“[Martin leaves] big shoes to fill, but I’m really excited to try to do it and make him proud,” Anthony told the News. 

Since internally announcing his decision to leave in January, Martin said that the transition experience has been “exceptionally humbling.” With the support of volunteers, staff and the surrounding community, Martin said he never once felt alone during the transition. 

“It’s just so cool to see the co-op stand on its own feet,” Martin said. “When you’re the founder, you always wonder how much of it’s just resting on your shoulders and how much of it’s actually sustainable. How much are [the founders] just carrying on their back as opposed to allowing [an organization] to live and breathe and operate as a self-sustaining entity that is fed by the wants and needs of our community.”

Martin will also be stepping away from his role as president of Upper State Street Association and commissioner on the New Haven Development Commission.

Laura Ospina covers Yale-New Haven relations and the Latine community for the City desk. Originally from North Carolina's Research Triangle, she is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in Political Science.