Terry Esau is nothing if not an optimist. The executive director of Free Bikes 4 Kidz is hoping to collect more than 6,000 donated bikes at 50 locations around the Twin Cities in a five-hour period Saturday. As of Tuesday, he had 130.
But based on the giving nature of this community and our annual urge to clear the garage for winter, history likely will repeat itself.
Esau’s nonprofit (fb4k.com) has collected more than 15,000 bikes since its inception in 2008. This will be the biggest push yet, with bike roundups in cities including Buffalo, Hastings, Owatonna and River Falls, Wis. Next year, the program expands to Salt Lake City.
“Our goal,” Esau said, “is to start planting chapters around the country.”
Not bad for a retired jingles writer and self-professed “bikeaholic.”
“I always had this huge fascination with the bicycle,” said 59-year-old Esau, of Orono. “I still feel like a child every time I get on my bike.” He admitted sheepishly that his top-of-the-line Trek Madone, with “crazy” electronic shifting, cost more than his car.
(If you have one of those, he does not expect you to donate it).
Esau never was that kid whose parents had to push him outside. In the summer of 1971, 16-year-old Esau and a buddy rode their bikes to the West Coast and back.
“We had no intention of coming back until a week before school started,” he said, recalling meeting “some really cute girls” at Yellowstone National Park and sticking around for a few additional days.
Esau later earned a music education degree from University of Northwestern in Roseville and spent 30 years writing and producing music for commercials for everything from Harley-Davidson to the Mall of America to Golden Grahams.
Then he “sort of walked away from it to do other things. I wanted to focus on things to create significant change, instead of things to promote better smelling kitty litter.”
The idea for FB4K came in a phone call from a friend, asking Esau about his cycling group, which rides about 70 miles every Saturday. The caller knew a family struggling financially and asked, “Might one of your buddies have a bike that we could give to their kid for Christmas?” Four of his friends volunteered.
Esau, the father of three grown daughters and two grandchildren, realized that he had unused bikes of his own. Doing a little research, he learned that up to 25 million bikes are sold in the United States annually. One-third of them are “starter bikes,” quickly outgrown.
Why not find a grateful kid to ride each and every one?
Esau talked about his vision on KARE 11 and collected nearly 300 bikes. The next year it was 750. Then 1,500. Then 5,000.
The primary sponsor, Allina Health, provides helmets for every bike given away, and more than 150 nonprofits identify children and families to receive them.
Esau’s challenge now is finding warehouse space to house the bikes until the December distribution. The improving economy has made it harder to find large and empty warehouse spaces, he said, especially free spaces. “They could be renting for $40,000 or $50,000 a month.”
One space is secured, another is close. Then the big work begins, as Esau enlists several thousand volunteers to refurbish the bikes. A note about that.
Free Bikes 4 Kidz requests that bikes be new or gently used. That means resisting the urge to drop off an unridable hunk of metal and mangled wheels. “We never say this out loud,” Esau said, “but, really, are you just cleaning out your garage?”
Most of the donated bikes are just fine, though. Huffys, Magnas, Esau doesn’t mind that they’re typically Big Box born. “They’re not great quality bikes like you’d get at a bike shop, but our goal is … you know … a kid just wants a bicycle.”
Those that can’t be fixed are recycled, down to the rubber. “It’s better than throwing it into the garbage,” he said.
C.J. Lunning is eager to get her donation dropped off on Saturday. Since August, Lunning, who works in information services at Allina, has been stopping at garage sales buying bikes for $5 and $10. She’s collected 85 bikes, everything from 21-speeds to trikes with training wheels.
“I love garage-sale-ing, but I have more than enough stuff,” said Lunning, of Spring Park. “I explain what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. They either come down on their price or sometimes say, just take ’em.”
Esau said it’s “cool when someone gets that excited. And I’m sure she’s eager to get them out of her garage.”
(Gently used children’s tricycles and bikes, and adult bikes, can be dropped off Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at any Allina Health location. For locations, go here.