Free Bikes 4 Kidz, a bicycle rehab and recycling nonprofit born in Minneapolis a decade ago, is branching out to five other U.S. cities and in the meantime hoping to set a world record right here.
The charity, with the help of Allina Health, aspires to collect 5,513 used bicycles on Saturday morning, which would smash its own Guinness World Record set in 2015.
Those bikes will be moved to warehouse space in New Hope, where thousands of volunteers will sort, clean and fix them. Then the bikes will be distributed to 75 community schools and nonprofits, which will line them up with kids in time for Christmas.
“I have a love affair with my bike. My bike costs more than my car, which says more about my car than my bike,” said Minneapolis composer and cyclist Terry Esau, who started Free Bikes 4 Kidz (fb4k.org) in 2008.
Esau, who believes that owning a bicycle means freedom, fitness, joy and a crucial form of transportation, encouraged his cycling buddies to help him collect and fix used bikes to give to kids and teens who couldn’t afford them.
“We did 250 that first year. My friends said, ‘That was fun. Let’s do it again next year,’ ” he said.
They tripled that number the next year, and did 1,500 bikes in the third year. Esau then decided to formalize the work by registering as a nonprofit.
The charity’s mission, he said: creating happy, healthy kids.
“It’s that first ticket to explore the world,” Esau said.
To date, Free Bikes 4 Kidz has given away 38,000 bikes, mostly in Minnesota. The nonprofit has now expanded to Atlanta; Salt Lake City; Portland and Eugene, Ore.; and Madison, Wis.
Esau said folks sometimes ask if he worries that he’ll run of out donated bikes. Nope, he said.
“People keep having kids and they buy bikes and they outgrow bikes,” he said.
It’s a lean operation, with a budget of $250,000, and relies on donated warehouse space, volunteer labor and hand-me-down bikes.
It has two full-time staffers, including Esau, and does all collecting and fixing in Minnesota during the same eight-week window — October through December — to keep costs down.
Nothing goes to waste. Bikes too broken to be fixed are harvested for parts and then sold for scrap metal.
“We call them organ donors,” Esau said.
Realizing that existing community nonprofits are already connected with children in need, the nonprofit outsourced the process of matching kids and adults with bikes. It relies on the skills of hundreds of bike mechanics, often retirees who are happy for the chance to tinker.
Bob Hagstrom, a retired engineer from St. Louis Park, volunteered three years ago after seeing Esau describe the charity on a news report.
“I was retired and looking for something to do,” said Hagstrom, standing in front of a table covered with wrenches, a bike propped on his work rack.
He aims to rehab 100 bikes for the nonprofit this year. Some take only 45 minutes, while others can require 2 to 3 hours of work.
Behind-the-scenes volunteers, including Hagstrom, get first dibs at volunteering for distribution days, when children come in and get to select their new bikes.
“It’s the best part of what we do, seeing smiles on the kids’ faces,” he said.
Allina Health has worked with Free Bikes 4 Kidz for seven years, providing bike drop-off sites, 800 volunteers to staff them and trucks to move the bikes to the warehouse, said Ellie Zuehlke, Allina Health’s director of community benefit and engagement.
Donors can drop bikes off from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at more than 50 Allina Health locations.
“Biking is a way kids and families can be active in a really sustainable way,” Zuehlke said. “You don’t need to be on a team.”
She added that Free Bikes 4 Kidz helps fill a need identified in Allina’s community health assessment.
“One of our areas of focus is physical activity, especially for children. We realized there was a very specific gap or need ... [and] a lot of people in our community don’t have access to a bike,” Zuehlke said.