Volunteer program has tools to form cycling habits

bike Partners: Repair and safety program helps youth, teaches basics

lpemberton@theolympian.comNovember 5, 2012 

  • HOW TO HELP

    Bike PARTners needs volunteer mechanics, instructors and donated bikes (especially bikes with 24- and 26-inch wheels).

    For Information: call Erin Scheel at 360-705-5839.

A new after-school program at Michael T. Simmons Elementary School in Tumwater is geared toward teaching kids basic bicycle-repair and safety skills.

And when kids complete Intercity Transit’s two-day Bike PARTners workshop, they can ride away with a newly refurbished bicycle of their own.

“We also give kids a lock, a light and a helmet,” said Erin Scheel, youth education specialist with Intercity Transit. “We want them to be safe.”

Bike PARTners is a partnership of several organizations, including Intercity Transit, the Thurston Regional Planning Council, local school districts, the Capital Bicycling Club and local bike shops. It is supported with grants and a crew of about a dozen volunteers who repair and rebuild salvaged bikes.

Many of the bikes are from unclaimed-property collections, such as the ones at police departments and transit authorities.

“They’re left on our buses a lot of times,” Scheel said. “We used to give them to Goodwill. Now we can give them to kids who will ride them.”

About 200 children have earned bikes since Bike PARTners began in January 2010, Scheel said. The program grew out of an effort led by a group of volunteers who were fixing bikes out of a garden shed at Mercy Housing’s Evergreen Vista Apartments in Olympia, she said.

“By spring that year, we were at Roosevelt Elementary School in Olympia,” Scheel added.

Bike PARTners was offered at Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School last year and will begin at Garfield Elementary School in Olympia this spring.

Not only does the program teach students how to repair a flat tire and adjust a bicycle seat, as well as the basic rules of the road for cyclists, it also promotes physical fitness and environmental education, said Andrew Rondeau, dean of students at Michael T. Simmons Elementary.

“I think the biggest part is how to be safe in transferring yourself from home to school or wherever you’re going,” he said.

Retired City of Olympia attorney John Vanek volunteers several hours a week with the program, cleaning and repairing bikes and providing one-on-one instruction with students.

For him, Bike PARTners is about teaching kids basic mechanics and inspiring a healthy habit of cycling.

“We tell them that a bike can be a lot of fun, but it’s also a piece of transportation,” he said. “The whole notion is that if at a formative age you teach kids how to ride, how to maintain a bike, they’ll use it. (The bike) won’t become a garage ornament.”

Sometimes, the program helps kids who have never owned or been on a bike.

“We have taught kids to ride bikes,” Scheel said.

Kids often relate bikes with fun and freedom, and they seem to thoroughly enjoy the how-to, mechanical aspect of the program, she said.

“It’s really empowering for the kids,” Scheel added. “They get to have tools and take a wrench home and know they can do a lot of amazing things with it.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com theolympian.com/edblog @Lisa_Pemberton

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