little boy gets a bike gift

Recently I attended a Spring Bike Clinic in Toronto, sponsored by The Bicycle Commons. I was there to help distribute refurbished bikes to kids who needed them.

The event was coming to a close, just a few minutes to go, and there were only two or three bikes left. A Dad came up to me with his two young children. The girl, about 8, got matched with a bike right away. But there wasn’t anything left small enough for the little boy, about 4.

He looked up at me, realized what I said, then pressed his face against his dad’s leg. He was so sad. It was heartbreaking.

There were a few bikes being repaired on site by volunteer mechanics so I went over in the hopes there would be one small enough for the little guy.

There was one tiny bike left, but the chain was completely rusted and needed to be replaced. The amazing mechanics decided they would check through all of the supplies to see if they could find a new chain small enough. It was late and it is hard to find parts for such a small bike.  It didn’t look good.

While we were waiting, and hoping, I kneeled down and said to the boy, “we’re going to see if we can fix this bike for you…I’m not sure if it will work, but we’re trying really hard, ok?”

He just nodded silently, with big, sad eyes.

A few minutes later one of the volunteers spotted a bike that looked a bit big…but maybe we could lower the seat?

We brought the bike over for the little guy to sit on. The mechanics lowered the seat all the way and it fit!!!

The boy was ecstatic! His whole face lit up! When I asked for a picture, he gave me a big thumbs up. As I was fitting him for a new helmet, that smile was still there, ear to ear. He walked over to his dad to show him the new helmet, then ran back to me and hugged me for a long time, arms tight around my legs.

Later, as I was leaving, I heard a child’s infectious laughter…I turned to see what was so funny and it was the boy on his new wheels, learning to ride with his dad holding his seat.  The little guy was giggling uncontrollably.   I looked at his dad and he said simply, “he’s happy”.

So beautiful. Ride on, buddy!

ride-the-city

I was so excited when I found this interactive map. It works like Google maps, where you simply enter or click and drag your starting point and destination and it gives you the safest bike route.

So far the map can calculate routes for lucky cyclists in New York, Austin, Chicago, Louisville, San Diego and Seattle. Love it.

the yike bikecheck out the yike bike!!!! you have to see the video:

http://www.yikebike.com/site/home

Montreal recently launched a public bicycle rental system called  Bixi.

It’s accessible to anyone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, three seasons of the year, from May to November.

The bikes have a cool unisex design and can be picked up from any of the 300 Bixi stations located throughout the city.

Subscriptions are available for 1 year or 30 days.  Each subscription give you a personal Bixi web space where you can find station info and tips to plan each trip.

Cutting edge technology to get people rolling.  Sustainable, accessible transportation that is good for people and good for the planet.

Great job Bixi.  Please come to Toronto!

For the past few months, I have been working on an initiative to get kids in low income communities the chance to own their own two wheels.  Based on research of how other organizations donate used bikes, I know that the ideal situation is to combine the “bike gift” with some sort of program.  Usually this involves repairing a bike or taking a bike skills course, then the child receives the bike.  Definitely win-win.

The problem is that those programs take resources (time, staff, and money) that most community organizations just don’t have.  Also single parents, many who do shift work or have more than one job to make ends meet…they don’t have a lot of spare time to enrol their kids into such programs, and/or attend with them.

I’ve really been struggling with this.  I know there are kids bikes out there that people are more than willing to donate rather than sell or end up in a landfill.  And I know there are kids who could use those bikes.   I don’t think it creates a dependency, I think of it as recycling a bike and empowering communities.

I want to know – do you think there is anything wrong with simply donating a bike to a child who could really use it?

Inspired by the power that my first bike had on my life, I recently launched myfirstwheels.ca, a non profit initiative to take used kids bikes and donate them to families who could really use it.

I grew up in a crime-ridden neighbourhood where there wasn’t much hope for ‘kids at risk’.  My first bike was from a junk yard, rusty and crooked, but it literally opened up my world.

Our family couldn’t afford much, but when I was 12, I was lucky enough to be given my first bike from a family friend. It was a yellow and white banana seat bike recovered from a local junk yard, all rusty with slightly crooked handle bars. I didn’t care about how it looked. I loved it and couldn’t believe I got my first bike!

I didn’t have anyone to teach me, so I figured I would push off of a curb and hope for the best. After countless falls, I finally caught my balance and rode around the block. I did it and I was hooked!

After-school activities, lessons, sports, or summer camps were all too expensive for our family. My school friends weren’t allowed to come over to play because my neighbourhood was too dangerous. So that didn’t leave much to do when I wasn’t in school. But I could always go for a spin.

On my bike, I could explore outside of my own environment. I discovered neighbourhoods with trees and grass…no graffiti, no police cruisers rolling through, or cars jacked up on cinder blocks…kids were actually playing in the front yard, parents were outside too….there were parks with no needles or used condoms.

That bike became more than something I could do on a summer day. It opened up my world. It gave me a sense of freedom, confidence, independence and sheer happiness that I still feel today when I ride.

As soon as I could get a part-time job, I cashed in my first cheque to buy a “real” bike – a shiny new Supercycle 10 speed!  They built it in store and I rode it home.  That day, I felt I could do anything I set my mind to.

We didn’t have a car, and sometimes, not enough for bus fare, so as a teenager, those wheels got me everywhere – to school, university, to my part-time jobs, to meet friends, etc.   I know that without my bike, I would have missed out on so many opportunities.

Today, I am an avid cyclist and almost year round, my bike is my primary mode of transportation.   I believe that bicycling can empower individuals, families, and even entire communities. It’s healthy and fun, and it’s good for the planet.

My first bike – a rusty, crooked yellow bike – was a priceless gift of possibility that had a lasting impact on my life.

Today, through myfirstwheels.ca my mission is to collect, clean up, and donate gently used bikes to kids living in low-income neighbourhoods in Toronto.  Kids who are fortunate enough to have a bike grow out of them fast. Passing it on keeps bikes out of landfills, and gives other children the chance to experience the joy of owning a bike.

There are so many kids whose families can’t afford to buy them a bike.  If you can help me give a bike to a child who could really use it, I’d love to hear from you.