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...

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