After years of riding, repairing and building bikes as a hobby, Steve Hunter had a vision for launching a new type of business where he could use his knowledge and passion for cycling to improve social equity and give back to his community. He looked to Conestoga to provide the training he needed to support his vision, and a new business was born. Switchback Cyclery, opened in 2013 with support provided by the Toronto Enterprise Fund, provides high quality bikes, accessories and repair services for the Toronto community. Operated under the umbrella of the Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, the business is also a sustainable social enterprise that provides employment for some of the community’s marginalized members as part of its mission.
“We offer employees a simple friendship and a chance to rediscover the joy and dignity that comes from having a meaningful and purposeful occupation,” said Steve, who manages Switchback Cyclery with his business partner Cynthia Leung.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Steve about the Conestoga training he received through the Winterborne Bicycle Institute, and how it has supported his vision for giving back to the community.
Describe what led you to Conestoga, and what inspired you to further your education through the Winterborne course?
I was looking for a good quality training course that would more than just fill the gaps in my experience repairing and maintaining bicycles. I wanted to partner with a school that had ongoing education and one that was accessible to our staff at Switchback Cyclery, each of whom has had their own struggle in the area of employment and training. Winterborne provided all that I was looking for as well as a good relational foundation making the interface between training and work, teaching and experience very accessible.
What would you describe as some of the strengths you found in the course?
The course was very informative and hands-on. The teaching was thorough and logical. When asked, the teaching staff were able to go deeper with explanations about specific products or processes. They were very willing to engage in deeper discussions beyond the curriculum to aid in the students understanding. The facility is well-equipped, well-lit and comfortable, allowing the class to work easily without crowding or waiting for a specific tool.
How has your experience at Conestoga benefited your career development?
I use the material on an almost daily basis both for my own work and for teaching our staff. I have applied so much of what I have learned that I can’t imagine operating a shop without the training.
What would you tell others who are considering coming into this course at Conestoga?
Book the time and spend the money! In my experience, it is the premiere teaching facility and faculty for bicycle repair and maintenance in Ontario.
If you could share advice with others considering this course, what would it be?
Block the time out on your calendar so you can absorb all of what is being offered. Don’t try to go home and catch up on work after a day of school. You will need the evenings for reading and studying.
Do you plan on furthering your development by enrolling in other part-time courses with Conestoga?
There are still more bicycle related courses I need to take and beyond that there is always room for learning around business management and retailing. My idea is to keep learning as long as I’m breathing.