Winding through a maze of welders bent over metal frames and workers painting bicycles everything from brilliant shades of red to what is known as “hell on wheels” khaki, two military men wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan toured the country’s only remaining bike factory in Ozone Park last week — which will now be donating money to a group helping others like them.
Worksman Cycles announced last Thursday it is issuing a new series of bicycles, and at least 10 percent of the revenue from each one sold will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project. The WWP is a nonprofit that was founded not long after the Iraq War began in 2003 and helps returning soldiers with everything from finding employment to receiving benefits and physical programs, such as the “Soldier Ride,” an annual four-day cycling event held in New York and other cities across the country.
“Anything that can help the project is definitely a really good thing,” said retired Cpl. Timothy Strobel, a 30-year-old from Bellport, LI, who was once told he may never walk again after being shot in the leg while serving in Iraq in 2007. “I was laid up with a hole in my leg when I first joined Wounded Warriors. I was depressed, and they made me feel like I’m not a statistic. They helped me get my benefits. They helped me get engaged.”
Strobel, who now not only walks, but rides bikes, joined retired Army Sgt. Stephen Siwulec, of Nesconset, LI; Wounded Warrior cofounder Al Giordano and Worksman Cycles representatives for last week’s tour of the manufacturer, during which time they got a glimpse of how the bicycles being made to support Wounded Warrior are constructed.
“We’re the last bike manufacturer in America, and over the last few years we’ve gotten more and more and more of a positive response that we’re made in America,” said Bruce Weinreb, director of custom programs and special markets at Worksman Cycles. “We decided to reach out to other organizations that are iconic American, and it took us five minutes to say, ‘Wounded Warrior Project.’”
The bicycles being made for the group, which include models for men and women and come in two military-style colors —“haze grey” and “hell on wheels khaki” — range in price from a little more than $400 to the mid $600s. Currently, they’re available through the company’s website, worksmancycles.com, but Worksman President Wayne Sosin said the firm plans on soon rolling them out to retailers in places across the country.
“The Wounded Warrior bicycle will be on display in key cities,” Sosin said.
Sosin noted that the company will donate at least $50 from every purchase to Wounded Warrior and has no maximum limit to what it will give.
Founded in 1898 by Morris Worksman, the company first built its bikes in a small shop where the World Trade Center would come to be located. The company moved in the 1970s to a former candle factory — marked by blue windows that once kept the sunlight from melting the wax — in Ozone Park, and it makes industrial-strength tricycles and bicycles that are used around the world, from Queens pizza shops to a Mercedes plant in Alabama and the U.S. Army in the Middle East.
The company said in addition to helping out an iconic American group, the partnership helps to fuel a factory that employs about 60 people, especially in light of how the city recently rejected Worksman’s bid to provide thousands of bicycles for its bike share program last year. Sosin said Worksman could have added another 50 workers to the staff had the city tapped it for the program.
Not all is dire, however, and New York University recently began using Worksman Cycles for its bike share program, which has about 1,000 members, and similar programs in Tulsa, Okla. and Princeton use the Ozone Park manufacturer as well.
And, Sosin said, it seems as though more groups are seeking out American-made products, which makes him optimistic they will not go the way of its competitors —abroad.
“When bike companies were closing their U.S. operations and partnering with people overseas, we didn’t,” Sosin said. “We have 60 people working here, and they don’t deserve to be given up on.
“The story of a bike being made in America shouldn’t be an amazing story, but it is,” he continued. “We’re very proud of what we’ve done.”
Giordano, of the Wounded Warrior Project, said the partnership is an important one for the group’s 20,000-plus members.
“We don’t take a penny in government funding; it’s all from the American public and mom and pop companies,” Giordano said.
Donations from Worksman will help the nonprofit fund a number of programs — all of them free, including counseling and help finding employment.
“Without Wounded Warrior, I’d probably be 400 pounds on my couch, or I don’t know if I’d even be here,” said Siwulec, who was riding in a vehicle in Afghanistan in 2004 when a bomb exploded in the road. “It hurt my hip, my back, I had traumatic brain injury and I still have a heart condition.”
Siwulec, now a federal police officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs and is studying criminal justice at Empire State College, and Strobel said the nonprofit also provides a network of colleagues who understand what each other has gone through.
“You go from having an instant family to the civilian world, where it’s more dog-eat-dog,” said Strobel, who is now studying to be a nurse practitioner at Stony Brook University on Long Island. “Wounded Warrior brings back camaraderie.”