After nearly a year of painstaking work, fixing and restoring more than 500 children's bikes, the Community Cycling Center's Holiday Bike Drive will kick off Dec. 9 at Emmanuel Hospital.
Thanks to countless hours from volunteers, 519 low-income children will experience the joy of cycling. And mending these metal ponies is not easy; sometimes a single children's bike can take three or four hours to fix. Tires must be replaced by hand and – a word to adults — a children's bike tire is much more difficult to remove and replace than a large tire. Chains must be adjusted, bottom brackets tightened, coaster brakes fixed. The list could go on. But for every week since last February, a dedicated group of volunteers, along with groups from a variety of organizations and companies, meet at the CCC to make sure a child from a low-income household gets a safe and functioning bicycle.
"For a lot of kids, this is their first bike," says Alison Hill, director of communications for the CCC.
Getting a first bike – or a second and third bike – is a milestone in the lives of children, says Hill. And that's what may separate the Holiday Bike Drive from other toy drives – not to say it's a competition in any way. Hill says getting a bike means the first bit of freedom and independence for a lot of kids who may never have felt that way before. It also begins what Hill and others at the CCC hope will be a lifelong commitment to physical well-being, coordination and responsibility – not to mention a whole lot of fun.
"This is giving a gift that develops healthy behaviors, an active lifestyle … to being more adventurous," Hill said.
The original holiday bike drive began back in 1994, but the current incarnation of the Holiday Bike Drive has been going on every year since 2000. By Neal Armstrong's count, that means more than 3,500 children have been introduced to bicycles through the program.
"It's providing access to a community that might find they can't afford a bike," he said.
But the event is much more than being a bike giveaway, says Hill. Children don't just pick out a bike and leave. They receive a properly fitted helmet, they receive basic instructions in bike safety and they can ride the bike in the "bike corral" to make sure it's the right size and everything is working. And just to make sure all the children are having a good time, there are free refreshments, musicians and clowns to create a festival-like experience, said Hill.
This year all the bikes are spoken for. The Community Cycling Center begins planning for 2008 in February. Referred by social service agencies, schools and other groups that work with those who qualify as low-income, the children's names and ages were forwarded to the center in advance, to avoid any disappointment on the day. Volunteers who speak Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese will be on hand to help children from those communities.
Hill said the drive is getting better every year. Next year, the CCC plans to enroll the children of parents taking part in the Create-a-Commuter program, which gives select low-income adults – some who are involved with the Oregon Department of Corrections – free bikes, helmets and other commuter gear. Hill says getting whole families involved biking together will encourage more biking for the whole family.