FB4K … changing lives one bike at a time
BY KIERSTIN KLOECKNER
Do you remember the feeling of being a kid and tearing around the neighborhood on two wheels? Do you remember the pure joy, independence and confidence it brought you? What would you be like, and what would your life look like now, if you were never given that opportunity? To be honest, I have no clue who I would be. The bicycle is so deeply rooted in my core and those roots were formed when I was a child. I am quite confident in saying, many of my successes in life were brought on by what I learned on my bike as a kid. So many of us take this simple thing for granted. Most of us were taught how to ride by our family members or friends and were given a bike to have as our very own. It’s hard for most of us to think about a kid without a bike, but there are so many families who financially cannot make it happen. Or maybe they were able to give their child one bike, which we all know, is quickly outgrown. Cycling, even as a child, is not cheap. For families with multiple children, it’s often downright impossible. In my eyes, every child should have the ability to own and ride a bike if they choose. This is where Free Bikes for Kidz (FB4K) comes in. They believe the same and are actually doing something about it.
FB4K, a non-profit organization, was formed in 2008 by Terry Esau in Minnesota. That year the organization collected, cleaned/repaired and gave away 250 bikes to kids; making it not only a great catalyst for getting kids on bikes for health purposes but also an environmental leader for keeping used bikes out of landfills. Terry, a retired musician and current author, had a wonderful vision and mission statement. Since that first year, the non-profit has spread to nine cities across the country, four of which are in the Midwest, and has refurbished and given away over 60,000 bikes! His plan is to take this model overseas next year.
Here in Madison, Wisconsin, I feel lucky enough to know the person who runs the local FB4K program, Andy Quandt. When not running FB4K, Andy also runs the Bike Mobile (a mobile bike repair business) and Gib’s Bike Shop in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. With the help of Drew Coursin and the chapter’s first sponsors, he got Madison up and running in 2016. And although almost all of the people involved are volunteers, there is one paid staff person to oversee volunteers/administration/operations, and a few professional bike mechanics are hired to make sure everything is done correctly.
As Andy puts it, “For many of the bikes, they come out of the FB4K process in better mechanical condition than brand new!”
When I asked him why he chose to start a chapter here in Madison, he said, “Madison has some serious racial and socio/economic inequality issues. I was looking for a way to help out as a bicycle mechanic. When I learned how simple the FB4K program is, I knew it would be a good fit. I want it to find a sustainable model to support the Madison area need for bikes. I want FB4K to become a household name like other annual drives, such as Toys for Tots and Coats for Kids. In the bigger picture, I want this program in every city, everywhere!”
As I write this, Andy is gearing up for a very busy few months. January 12 marked the collection day where people could drop off their used bikes at several locations throughout Madison. Each participating city has specific days they do this and you can find all of the information on the national website. I was lucky enough to help out with this year’s collection day and was so proud our area donated about 1,200 bikes (more still coming in). Now, however, the real work begins … the cleaning and repairing process, which is, again, mostly volunteer based. This job alone consists of hundreds, upon hundreds of volunteer hours. Just think how long it takes you to clean and tune or repair your bike. Multiply that by over 1,100, the amount of bikes Madison collected last year, and what you have is 425 volunteers putting in a combined 2,200-plus hours! All of this to give kids, in my opinion, one of the greatest gifts, the ability to ride a bike. Finally, March 23-24 is the delivery date of the bikes.
You’ve read this and now you want to get involved, either in Madison or your own city. What can you do? If the city you live in does not currently have a chapter, I would suggest writing Terry Esau, the founder, to get some insight on how to make it happen. If your city does have a chapter, there are a plethora of jobs year round! And no, you do not need to have any bike mechanic experience.
Although it is not the most glamorous position, none of these chapters could survive without donations. The simplest way is to donate directly to the chapter.
Other creative options are by holding fundraisers. Here in Madison, volunteers make Christmas tree ornaments with old bike chains and sell them for $30 each. Chapters also need supportive business partners, so if you know of a good match, try to bring them on board. Over the collection and refurbishing time, volunteers are needed for everything from driving U-Haul vans full of bikes, to unloading and organizing the bikes, to washing the bikes and finally the actual mechanical work. Kids are strongly encouraged to help with the collection and cleaning positions. Finally, people are needed to help with the delivery process. Essentially, there is a job, even if for just a few hours, perfect for you. All the information can be found at FB4K.org.