Jerry Kraynick’s pay-it-forward attitude made his Kraynick’s Bike Shop a Pittsburgh treasure. The shop had grown into a community of like-minded enthusiasts who volunteered to help repair bikes and keep the cycle of kindness spinning.
To enter the Garfield shop is to enter a world of gears and chains and tires. But it’s also a world of unpretentious, low-key altruism, where everyone who needs a bike — or bike repairs — is accommodated. Nobody is turned away for lack of funds. Kids are a focus of the Bikes Before Christmas program, in which hundreds of bicycles are refurbished each year and given away.
When Jerry decided to retire at age 73, his legion of fans worried that the shop, which had been in the Kraynick family for some 70 years, would close.
But thanks to Peter “Rocky” Cristobal stepping up, this neighborhood institution continues.
The bike, Rocky says, “has a very human aspect. It’s transportation. It’s exercise. It’s independence. It’s pretty special. While the bike world focuses on cycling as a sport, Jerry favors the human aspect. “I didn’t want it to go away. There’s no other place like it.”
Jerry still volunteers on Saturdays at the shop that continues to bear his name. Volunteers keep the place buzzing and preserve its mission.
That Bikes Before Christmas project is one of the many that make Kraynick’s more than just a place to fix your bike. Rocky, Jerry and a small army of volunteer mechanics fix up donated bikes acquired throughout the year. Once the bikes are in perfect working order, they’re given to various nonprofits who distribute them to kids.
Usually, that’s the Salvation Army or the nearby Thomas Merton Community Thrift. Sometimes, it’s just an old friend of Jerry’s in the Hill District who knows everybody and knows which kids could use a bike.
Other programs for kids include a partnership with the Irma Freeman Center across the street with a summer camp and afterschool programs. The sessions include basic bike repair, maintenance, and even bike-building.
“We spend a lot of time riding bikes in the neighborhood,” Rocky says.
There’s also a project with 412 Kids Zone, which deals with youths transitioning out of foster care.
“Many of them have never learned to ride a bike,” Rocky says. “So, we teach them and at the end, they get a bicycle.”
For kids, having a bike can be a big deal. Word gets around that Kraynick’s Bike Shop is the place to go.
Rocky pulls up an email from Casa San Jose, which works with immigrants and refugees in Pittsburgh.
“They’re looking for three bikes for three kids from a family,” he says. “Their dad just got deported. They want to give them bikes for increased independence and mobility.”
People often ask how the shop can do so much for free.
“I tell them that there are a lot of paying customers that support all of the free work that we do,” Rocky says. “The fortunate cyclists subsidize the less fortunate. We depend on donations. Biking enthusiasts will give us parts and that subsidizes the free portion of the shop.”
It all comes down to Jerry and his unusual business plan:
“The shop runs on compassion,” Rocky says.