07/06/2012 09:04 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2012

Red Planet Bicycles Offers Free Skills And Wheels To Volunteers in North Detroit Neighborhood

Two years ago, Mars Symons, 29, was the co-owner of a successful San Francisco kosher food service called Noble Foods -- but he gave that up to move to Detroit.

His new life? Operating his own community bike space.

"I owned my own business. I was making plenty of money. I had all my needs met," he told The Huffington Post.

However, that way of living didn't feel right to Symons. He learned of an intentional community movement in Detroit called Fireweed Universe City, after meeting a psychedelic trance DJ who had become involved with the group. Symons decided to bike to the Motor City to check it out.

And that was history.

Now he fixes up bicycles in a barebones re-habbed house on Goldengate street near Palmer Park in Detroit, and says he loves his life.

"I could work for a corporation and everyday and feel sick with myself, or I could do this and feel beautiful, " he said.

The bike center, Red Planet Bicycles, is part of a 9-house neighborhood community that is run by Fireweed, the Goldengate restoration project and members of Occupy Detroit. The wider project also features a community center and gardens.

Symons said the bike center is part of Fireweed's larger mission of creating a space where people can reach their full human potential.

"The bike shop began out of a need. I noticed that kids in the neighborhood didn't have a bike shop," he said. "I would see three kids on one bike -- one in the front one, one in the middle peddling and one on the back -- all the time. If a tire went flat they'd ride it flat."

He and his friends put up fliers asking for donated bicycles and parts. They went to Soup, a community gathering that provides funding for local projects, and got a micro-grant to buy a set of bike tools.

The project opened last summer with the goal of giving bikes and teaching repair skills to neighborhood residents. Symons gave away 60 bikes last summer and 51 so far this year. He said the Red Planet Bicycles is nonprofit and staffed by volunteers. People earn bikes by helping out in the bike center, or chipping in around the center, like weeding the community garden.

Symons used to keep hours, but said that didn't work out well. He now helps people whenever they happen to catch him at the space. Red Planet Bicycles has barely any overhead, although sometimes he'll buy parts out of pocket with money he makes from clerical jobs. They've equipped the building with solar panels to provide lights and minimal access to electric power.

Right now the space doesn't have much traffic, because its hot and nearly everyone in the neighborhood has bikes. But it was bustling in May, said Symons, with six or seven people coming by every day. People still stop by to patch up a flat or adjust their handlebars.

Symons says his most loyal customers are the neighborhood kids. Sometimes they stop him on the street and ask him if it's true that he really cycled across the country. He hopes, one day, these kids will grow up and play a role in keeping Red Planet Bicycles alive. One experience makes Symons think that his wish just may come true.

"Our bike shop got robbed last summer -- all the tools went missing," he said. "When a group of kids came in I said, 'This is your bikeshop what can we do?' Within a few a few weeks most of the tools had been returned."

Red Planet Bicycles is located at 160 W. Goldengate in Detroit. For more information visit