Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Franklin Field Kids Bike Donation, Dorchester, MA

Last Friday's donation of a bout 50 bikes and helmets to the kids of Franklin Field Boston Housing Authority development in Dorchester, marked the second successful collaboration between International Bicycles, Mayor Menino's Boston Bikes, and the BHA.

The folks at the Sportsmen Tennis Club were nice enough open their doors to a bunch of orange-shirted volunteers and a small army of really, really excited kids. There was, however, one rule laid down by the club management: "No skidding!" Giving a kid a coaster brake bike and telling him not to skid it is like putting a mouse wearing a tuxedo made out of Fancy Feast in front of a starving cat and telling him not to eat it.

During the preparation phase of a bike donation, there is inevitably this, "How are we going to get this huge pile of bikes and all those helmets into that tiny van?" Yet somehow it always works out. Sometimes it's not easy or pretty, and sometimes IBC service manager Erich Leas dies during the process, but it works out. Except for the Erich being dead part.

A whole lot of time, energy, and planning goes into one of these events, and without Nicole Freedman (on bike) and John Bilderbeck, there is no way any of it could happen.

Weeks prior to a bike donation event, the Boston Housing Authority circulates questionnaires throughout the development to help determine the sizes and genders of the kids. The question was asked "What if a girl wants a blue bike or a boy wants a pink bike" The answer: "She or he can have one...but it's not a contingency we plan for." It could happen, and Kim Jon Il could wake up one morning and decide not to put on enormous glasses.

Sometimes the accuracy of the information on the questionnaires is questionable. I never did see the 2 1/2 foot tall five-year-old. Then again, 2 1/2 foot tall people are easy to miss.

After checking in and signing the waiver, parents and kids head to the helmet fit station. Often the older siblings of the target-age kids end up getting helmets as well. A huge positive byproduct of these events is that kids end up wearing helmets and associating the riding of a bicycle with the wearing of a helmet, no matter what.

Once the kids have helmets, they move on to the bike fit station (that's where IBC comes in). Bike size is determined (often debated), colors are selected, and saddle height is adjusted.

Once the kids have their bikes sorted out, they head over to the skidding contest...er, I mean SAFETY COURSE, where they learn the rules of the road. Some kids are harder to reach than others — I saw the pink-jacketed girl in the above photo riding the wrong way down Storrow Drive without a helmet on Monday morning.

The phrase "joyous mayhem" always comes to mind at these things. We plan and plan, and stress and stress, and then it's over in a flash of fun and craziness.

This girl was so stoked about her new bike, she must have flipped her streamers in the air 100 times or more. Maybe it wasn't about the bike...who knows, she could have had reacted to a cardboard box or a folding chair the same way.

Doing the safety course with kids this age is pretty funny. "What does green mean?" "Well, green means that I'm 4-years-old, sitting at a stop light on my 16" wheeled bike with training wheels, which is kind of insane...someone should probably come and get me out of the street before I die."

If the Super Bowl featured a team of red bikes playing against a team of green bikes; I would bet on the red bike team. If a red bike were running for president against a blue bike and a yellow bike; the red bike would win. Red bikes are very popular.

The morning after this event, the bike donation crew headed out to Hyde Park for another event, which is a story for another day...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Eliot School Bike Rodeo

Yesterday IBC supported a kids bike rodeo at the Eliot School in Needham. Before I continue, allow me to describe what a bike rodeo is, because it might not be what you think. In fact, it wasn't what some of the kids thought, "this isn't like a REAL rodeo" one sharp kid observed, "there aren't any bull riders or anything." "And there aren't any clowns either" I added. "Well you LOOK like a clown with that stupid beard" another kid chimed in. OK, that last part didn't really happen...kids are so well behaved these days, what, with the no cyber-bullying work shops and all. What happened to the good old fashioned cruelty of children? And what happened to back packs? Kids are now wheeling around carry on style luggage instead of backpacks. Don't they know it's never too early to start destroying their spines?

Although there wasn't actually a quip about me looking like a clown, there was one kid who said "Hey, I like your beard, you look like Abraham Lincoln." I told him that I normally don't sport such a weird beard and that it was for a Halloween costume. When I'd finished checking out his bike he said "Thanks Abraham Lincoln." I think that kid is going to do alright.

Ah yes, the beard:

So anyway...

A bike rodeo is an event put on by particularly awesome P.E. teachers at the elementary school level. The kids are rotated through a series of stations where they get tested on their knowledge of the rules of the road, they get their helmets fit properly, they get their bikes checked over for safety (that's where IBC comes in), and finally, they get to go cruise around and bicycle safety obstacle course to demonstrate their real world skills.

If they pass they entire course, the kids get a license to ride to school, and many of them end up using their licenses.

Checking out kids bikes doesn't take a whole lot of tools, allow me to make a bullet point list of what is required:

  • 13, 14, and 15mm box wrenches for axle nuts and stem bolts
  • 8mm Allen wrench for loose kickstands (there will be many)
  • 5mm Allen for stem bolts and assorted loose items
  • 6mm Allen for stem bolts (Lots of loose bars)
  • Chain lube (bikes get left out in the rain...like all expensive toys)
  • Pliers for straightening out crooked valve stems (Magna's come stock with these)
  • A well-functioning floor pump

The floor pump...

by the end of a kids bike rodeo your arms will be destroyed from pumping up all the tires. A great ploy is to bring at least two pumps and rope the kids into pumping their own tires. They will actually be completely psyched to do it too. And they love putting valve caps back on. Of course I will tell them that valve caps are not really all that important, and that they will likely wreck their tubes on a sharp curb edge (probably because their parents didn't pump up their tires for three months) before the valve begins to degrade from exposure to the elements. This I do for posterity, so that in twenty years these kids won't come into IBC and say "I am really, really ANGRY with you people. I just had a computer installed yesterday, and after I drove for over two hours back to my house, I noticed that there was no valve cap on my rear wheel (they never say tube, never)... this is unacceptable, I demand a new valve cap for FREE!" Such is the over-inflated (pun intended) role of a valve cap in people's minds, they think that they are actually worth something. Ya, the ones in the form of light-up skulls and dice are, sure, but the standard black ones...they're about as valuable as Zimbabwean pennies.

Most of the bikes (at least in Boston's suburbs) are generally in pretty decent shape: a little lube, a little air and they're good to go. But then there are a always a few bikes that make you go "Wow, this thing is a death trap. I wonder if this kid gets 'running scissors' and 'eye-poking sticks' for his birthday?"

Bike rodeos are always fun and the end result is that you get kids riding to school, which is pretty cool. Thanks to Craig Brenhiser and the Eliot School for putting this thing on!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

National Take A Kid Mountain Biking Day

Riding mountain bikes with kids is awesome. I know that's kind of a shaky thesis, but I think I can back it up.

On the first Saturday in October, NEMBA hosted a National Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day ride in the Middlesex Fells. About 80 kids showed up to ride, eat pizza, and spray paint bike themed T-shirts. My role at this event was to lead rides. Often leading kids rides is akin to herding chickens with their heads cut off, but I got lucky with my group, they were all little rippers. We started with about eleven kids, six of whom were from a Cub Scout troop. The scouts only had to ride, I think it was a mile, for their merit badge. So they cut out after the first part of the loop. Which was good because that group contained that one kid. That human cannonball kid. The one who takes no instruction and is hell bent on taking out every other kid in his path. I breathed a great sigh of relief as I saw him roll away. Though our National Mountain Bike Trail Patrol rider may have been cursing under his breath: "Damn, I guess I'm not going to be needing these sutures then...boring!"

The scouts get a little pre-ride maintenance talk

A big part of riding with kids is quickly determining the group dynamic and assessing the kids' skill levels. At one point I hopped a log and pointed out the easier line to my right for the kid right behind me who totally ignored me and went straight for the spot where I had hopped it. He threw his front wheel up, tagged the log pretty hard, then his rear wheel hit and sent him flying. I thought he was going down for sure, but no: he didn't even put a foot down, he just wrestled the bike back into line and rode out of it smiling.

Later on the same kid (full disclosure: the "kid" was GB NEMBA President Adam Glick's son Sam) cleaned the above rock obstacle. It was one of those things where you had to commit 100% or fall on your butt. One of the adult guides asked "So, when you do something like this how do you think about bailing out." "You don't" I replied. I told all the kids who were trying it to "go full throttle, no brakes, all or nothing, do or die!" Sam pulled it off and it was rad.

Another View. It wasn't any easy move for anyone.

Sam wasn't the only rock star either. We had kids in the group who hadn't really been on a mountain bike ride, ever. The first time we stopped for a log-hopping clinic they weren't having any of it, but the second time we stopped, they went for it and got over the thing with varying levels of grace and composure.

We were close to completing out allotted loop but the crew was still rarin' for more. This was a solid group with good skills and exceptional fitness, so we blew past the turn for the parking lot and continued on, all the way up to the Bear Hill fire tower. There we had a little rock-upping clinic that, due to a rear wheel not quite getting de-weighted enough, turned into a flat-fixing clinic.

There were a couple good do-over sessions on rooty uphills. The sponge-factor (or maybe it's the lack of fear-factor) is so much more apparent in children. On the first attempt they'd flail all over in too small of a gear and ride off the trail. But with the smallest amount of coaching they'd blast right up the thing, no problem.

The mantra of the day on the descents was "control, not speed." While "letting it go" is the best policy on descents for adults or older kids, if you tell younger kids to "let it go" they will really, REALLY let it go, not stopping until their bars jackknife and they end up munching on gravel.

You don't have to wait until the next National Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day to take a kid mountain biking. Go do it this weekend, you won't regret it...unless the kid is that human cannonball kid. In that case bring some bubble wrap, hockey pads, and a cell phone with 911 on speed dial.

The next big NEMBA event is the Wicked Ride of The East up in North Andover on Halloween. So get dressed up and come on out for some killer riding!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kids Bike Donation Part One

IBC has another couple kids bike donations coming up. Once again we'll be working in conjunction with Nicole Freedman, The Boston Housing Authority, and Mayor Menino's Boston Bikes. The first step in the process this time around was to do a complete inventory of trade in bikes to see what we had available for donation. As the trade in bikes come in over the course of the year, the bikes don't — how can I put this lightly? — get put away on any particular sort of order. They get put in piles, huge piles. And they become entangled, horribly entangled. Bars through spokes and pedals through frames and training wheels through everything else. I hate training wheels. They do nothing to teach a child to ride properly, all they do is allow the child to pedal as fast as they want with no eye toward steering or balance. It's like teaching a teenager to drive by having them jam down the gas pedal while ignoring the steering wheel. That, and they are a terrible tangling and tripping hazard.

Speaking of hazards: during a kids bike wrangling session in the warehouse, you will smash the ever-living bejesus out of your head on one of the 2 x 4's comprising the shelves at least three times. The first time you go "I saw that comin'. Well now that I know better I should have no problem avoiding hitting my head on anymo — WHACK! AAGH! CRAP!" The first two usually occur close together and the third time usually occurs after you've let down your guard at the end of the day and you're all tired. That one's the worst, you're lurching along, hunched over like Quaisimodo, dragging two 16" wheeled bikes across the floor, and you don't quite duck quick enough or long enough and WHAM! At that point you just want to fall on the dusty floor and cry.

But when all the curses were said and all the untangling was done there were 190 bikes deemed ready for donation.

There are hundreds of kids bikes up in the IBC warehouse right now, when I go up there I feel like I'm walking into the last scene in Raiders of The Lost Ark. Sometimes I get all creeped out.

And then I see these things sitting up on the shelf and I completely lose it. I know that vampires use Thule Atlantis 1800's for travel coffins. Seriously, watch the video below:

Luckily I've got James Morrison and Peter Bradshaw up in the warehouse to keep me company a lot of the time. That's Embrocation Cycling Journal headquarters right there (below). Pretty glamorous eh? Funny, James and Peter were sitting right there, I wonder why they didn't show up in the photo? Come to think of it, I've never seen them outside when they weren't all smeared with embrocation, and they do wear a lot of sunblock. I hear they're even into night time cross races. Two skinny, veiny dudes, two travel coff— I mean Thule boxes...you gotta start to wonder.

Although there are scarier things than vampires in the IBC attic, things like this this:

You stopped screaming yet? Then take a look at this:

I can't pinpoint what year the above pictured Mantis hails from. I think it should jump back into the hot tub time machine it came out of, but hey, if you're into it you should call IBC Newton and offer them something for it. Or maybe if you're a member of the Fearless Vampire Killers you could offer to exterminate the inhabitants of the warehouse in exchange for this vintage monstrosity.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Alice Taylor Kids Bike Donation

September 9th 2010

International Bicycle Center's kids bike donation collaboration with Mayor Menino's Boston Bikes and the Boston Housing Authority was a huge success, delivering nearly fifty bikes and helmets to the children of the Alice Taylor development in Roxbury, MA.

On Thursday afternoon a basketball court bordering on the South West Corridor bike path was transformed into a bicycle-outfitting camp. First parents or guardians were asked to sign a waiver, then the kids were lined up and fitted expertly for helmets. After that they were ushered over to the bicycle fitting station, where they chose a girls or boys bike, with or without training wheels. Adjustments were made as needed and then the kids were sent off to the bicycle safety course to learn the rules of the road. At times the safety course was anything but safe, particularly when it reached a critical mass of about forty kids. But what better way to learn some cycling skills fast than by being thrust into a swirling free for all of brightly colored bikes being piloted by joyously screaming children? In the end they all came out alive and (virtually) unscathed.

Where did all these almost-new, shiny kids bikes come from? Well...

International Bicycle Center has a program in place that encourages customers to trade in their kids bikes within two years of the purchase date for a credit of up to 50% of the value toward a new kids bike. It's an incentive for people not to go buy a rickety-kid-maiming-machine from a department store. The byproduct of this program is that IBC ends up with hundreds of kids bikes to donate to kids who might not otherwise have bikes.

This program meshes nicely with Boston Bike Czar Nicole Freedman and Mayor Tom Menino's goal to get one thousand kids on bikes in the next few years. At this time there are plans for two more kids bike donation in late September and early October. That ought to put a dent in the one thousand bike goal.

Boston Bike Czar Nicole Freedman has quite the rapport with the kiddos

One of the truly great aspects of these bike donation days is that not only are kids getting bikes, they are also getting helmets. And when all of a sudden fifty kids in one neighborhood are riding around with helmets on, saying "the Mayor says I should always wear my helmet" it has an effect the way kids think about cycling. They realize: you ride a bike — you wear a helmet.

The safety course of death, why we wear helmets

This guy rides a bike like he was born on one

How can you not smile when you have pink steamers on your bike?

The process of learning how to ride a bike can be a great time for parents to bond with their kids. Last fall International did a bike donation at the Holland School in Dorchester, one little girl came back from summer vacation and told her teacher "Me and my dad rode bikes every day!"

The bike Czar tries her hand at being a helmet Czar

Crashing and laughing it off

IBC will be documenting the whole donation process during the next couple kids bike donations, stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Holland School Kids Bike Donation 2010

Over the course of two days and some change, IBC delivered a total of 108 Trek and Fisher kids bikes, along with Trek Vapor helmets, to the kids of the John P. Holland School in Dorchester, MA. International Bicycle Center has a program in place that encourages customers to return kids bikes within two years of purchase for a credit of up to 50% of the bike's value toward their next kids bike purchase. A 16" wheeled bike can be traded for a 20" wheeled bike, and so on, all the way up to a child's 24" bike, which can be traded-in for an adult-sized bike. This program provides an economical way for parents to keep their kids on appropriately sized bikes and as a "bi-product," IBC ends up with hundreds of kids bikes that are still in great condition, ready for donation.

A fleet of 16", 20", and even 24" (there are some huge first graders) wheeled bikes were assembled outside the community center at The Holland School. We were asked more than once how we got all those bikes into that tiny, little truck. It did sort of have a clown car effect, looking at the mass of colorful bikes sprawling across the courtyard, you'd never think they would all cram into that space. Thing is, they almost didn't.

Last year we did the bike drop in three days, at a rate of about 40 bikes a day. Somehow we completely forgot that, and decided we could do it in two days. Suffice it to say, the loading of the van was interesting. The fear was that the load would shift in transit, jamming the door shut, effectively locking all the bikes inside. This fear was almost realized when, on day two, the IBC pop-up tent fell against the door, blocking the track. For a minute there, I thought the only way we were getting those bikes out was with a Sawzall or an axe. There was even a point when I thought it was a good idea to drive the truck at high speed to the end of the back parking lot and slam on the brakes in hopes that the load would shift forward and free the door. Luckily the door did open after some manic jiggling.

The back of the truck was transformed into a helmet fitting station. Julie Sneed, 1st grade teacher, and our liaison to the Holland School and tireless volunteer James Parsons made sure each helmet was properly fitted.

Before the donation, questionnaires were distributed to the kids at the Holland School. They were asked if they were a boy or a girl, what their height was, and most importantly, what they were going to name their new bikes. All of the kids came up with great names — names like Max, Night Rider, and Fast Bike. One girl was confused when she couldn't find a bike with the name she'd given it on it, all the bikes said "Trek" or "Gary Fisher." She was looking for a bike called "True Jackson." When Julie, uh, I mean, Ms. Sneed, explained to the girl that the bikes were made by Trek and that she could call them anything she wanted to, she chilled out. When another boy was asked what the name of his bike was he replied, "It's a super star." "Oh, your bike is called Super Star." "No, a super star...Michael Jackson." Michael Jackson got a special spot in the line of bikes awaiting pick up.

The importance of helmet safety was discussed often and then, out nowhere, a spontaneous "meditation circle" formed. The kids were meditating on the fact that they are always going to wear their helmets when they ride their bikes. We still have no idea where that came from.

The dude in the orange and brown sweater and his twin brother were so excited, they were literally bouncing up and down. I told them "bounce this way," as I hopped over to the bike line up with them so they could pick out their bikes, as the cafeteria staff stared at the scene bemusedly from afar.

Ms. Sneed does such an incredible job with the kids, she gets them so pumped up, it's a beautiful thing to see. In fact, all the staff we met at the Holland School were amazing at what they do, Ms. O'Toole, Ms. Mai, Ms. O'Connell, Ms. Wilson, all of them are awesome teachers. I can't imagine having to direct the boundless energy of all those kids day after day. They deserve medals. The heck with that, they should have their visages carved into the top of a mountain.

All the kids took a pledge that they would always wear their helmets whenever they ride their bikes. In this case peer pressure might be a good thing. Now the vast majority of kids in the 1st and 3rd grades (last year IBC donated bikes and helmets to the 2nd graders) at the Holland have helmets and know how to use them. They might influence the kids who still don't wear helmets to actually wear them.

Boston Bikes will be following up with safety talks next week to drive home the necessity of helmet and traffic safety. Thanks to Nicole Friedman for getting that going, and big thanks to all the staff of the Holland, Ms. O'Toole's daughter whose name I'm forgetting), and James Parsons. There are a going to be a whole lot of happy kids rolling around the parks and bike paths of Boston this summer thanks to you guys.