This thought continued to run through my mind with every bike I put into the clamp of my workstand this past Sunday. The only difference was I didn't have this resource.
The TurningWheels for Kids Tri-Valley chapter held our first ever Free Bike Clinic in Livermore last Sunday. And, although it was over 100 degrees, we still had over 30 volunteers show up to help us fix 60 bikes.
As a kid growing up with a single parent who was doing his best just to get by, there was a good portion of my childhood where we didn't have money for a bike. Most of the time, I just did without and when I did get a bike, it was either one that someone had grown out of or a friend of the family had found, fixed up and given to me.
I can remember one instance in particular when I had just moved back in with my dad after a period living with my aunt and uncle. We lived in San Jose in the early 70s, BMX was just starting to take off and several of my new friends had converted their stingrays to bmx bikes by taking off the banana seat and the high rise bars and putting on an old 10 speed seat and some bmx bars.
I was so excited when one day after work my dad walked in to the apartment with some junk pile find and the promise that we'd fix it up just like "one of those fancy bmx bikes". That excitement eventually dimmed as Saturday after Saturday there it sat on the patio waiting for him to keep his promise.
Its memories like these and my later passion for biking that first got me involved with TurningWheels for Kids. Too often, for reasons beyond their control, kids today don't get to experience the liberation and freedom that comes with owning a bicycle. And they pay for it in ways that will affect them the rest of their lives. In addition to never being able to experience the joy of the wind in their face, we've got a generation of kids growing up with ever increasing obesity rates, diabetes issues, health problems and an attitude of laziness from being shuttled and chauffeured everywhere they need to go.
As we were setting up our pop-ups and organizing ourselves and our tools, I noticed a kid out on the curb looking at us and I could almost imagine the thoughts going through his head....is it really free? what if they ask me to pay? What if the labor is free but I have to pay for parts? As we waived him forward he came tentatively, broken bike and the flier we had passed out at his school in hand...soon enough though, he was smiling and happy as one of the teams loaded his bike into the repair stand and began to get it back up and running.
As the day wore on, and the kids kept coming, I heard the same story told over and over again only in different voices..."yeah, I used to ride it everywhere but then I got a flat, my pedal broke, my brakes quit working, my handlebar came loose, etc, etc....."
For the majority of the bikes, the issues started out as minor fixes but turned into bigger jobs as a result of sitting un-ridden in a yard somewhere.
I actually spent a couple hours in the afternoon with what was obviously a hard-ridden, low budget bike in my stand. The wheels were so bent it barely rolled and brake pads so worn that if you did get it going there was no way you were going to stop. As I worked on it for a guy not that much younger than me, I kept thinking, "why doesn't he just break down, pony up the 100 bucks this thing cost and buy a new bike? It was only when he came over and said, "are you going to be able to fix it? I have to ride it to work tomorrow" that the reality check kicked in.....I spent more on my recent set of pedals than this guy has invested in his daily transportation.....yes, I admit it, I really do forget sometimes just how blessed I am.
Eventually, as the afternoon came to close and the last of the bike stands were folded up and put away I looked around. Everywhere on the faces of our group of volunteers, along with the dirty hands, greae stained clothes and tired eyes was something else...something more...something real....there were smiles. There were looks of satisfaction...an attitude of having done something worthwhile....of something good....
To a person, every single volunteer said, "that was a great experience, when are we doing it again?"
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’