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Bikes for Tykes program rolling
Santa’s Little Helpers aren’t so little and some of them are sporting toques, bushy beards and tattoos. And they’ve got the music turned up.
Christmas is three weeks away and down a steep flight of stairs located in the back of Obsession Bikes’ showroom, four young staff members are preparing to get busy refurbishing bikes for the store’s annual Bikes For Tykes program, which gives out bikes to North Shore families who would otherwise be unable to afford them.
Obsession Bikes owner James Wilson, who started the program eight years ago, has just returned from a cycling trip in the States and he’s downstairs surveying an adjacent room jam-packed full of kids’ bikes.
“That’s a lot of bikes.”
“I’m hoping there’s some order to it,” he says, grinning. “We have a long journey ahead.”
He takes a look at one of the new arrivals, nodding approvingly. “This is about new — the quality of the bikes [being donated] is really improving.”
In the store’s workshop, previously used bikes will receive everything from new tires and seats, to handle grips, brake pads and more.
Then, they’re given to Family Services of the North Shore and other local agencies to be given out as Christmas presents.
Typically, December isn’t a big bike-buying season, especially if you’re an independent bike store not located in a mall.
So instead of laying off staff, Wilson repurposes their skill to refurbishing bikes for kids this time every year.
It costs Wilson approximately $3,500 in donated labour to do the project, but he’s not complaining. He’s just happy to share a simple message with his employees and others in the neighbourhood.
“We do live in a community and we can make a difference.”
Wilson came to B.C. from Winnipeg where he grew up in a tight-knit little town. As a bike sales rep crisscrossing B.C. he always picked up on that sense of community when he visited smaller towns like Nelson or Smithers. Later, when he launched his own bike shop in Lower Lonsdale he worked to foster that feeling of community by sponsoring biking events and through programs like Bikes For Tykes.
Wilson, a 47-year-old father of two, believes every kid deserves a bike.
He still remembers his first bike, a hand-me-down that was thick with various coats of paint applied through the years. He was around five when he got it and it was a little too big and the tires could have used more tread, but instantly his world opened up.
The bikes Obsession gives out are in far better shape than the first bike he received thanks to the talented and dedicated bike shop elves. And his crew clearly believes in the program.
“Seeing the effect of the program is great,” says technician John Thompson as he fixes a bike.
And others in the community are stepping up. This year a student at Mulgrave school named Boyd Borjiet helped get his fellow classmates to collect 25 bikes for the program.
“They just dropped them off. Isn’t that cool?” says Wilson.
Then there was Rupert May and Phil Mowatt from North Van’s CCN Cycling Component Network who hunted on Craigslist for suitable bikes, purchased 16 of them and donated them to Obsession.
As well, three North Shore families donated $900 to buy helmets to give out with the bikes.
“It’s super rewarding,” says Wilson, who’s witnessed first-hand just what a difference the program can make when he delivers the bikes to a single mom with three kids or repairs a bike that was given out a few years earlier but needs an overhaul because it’s been ridden so much.
“If that doesn’t validate the value of the program, what does?”
He’s surprised similar programs aren’t popping up across Metro Vancouver.
“[The North Shore is] relatively affluent, yet we can still put out 100 bikes directly to the community. What a lot of people don’t realize about their neighbourhood is they may be doing fine but not everyone is. There are lots of single moms, and lots of folks have lost work.”
Fortunately, many of their children will be getting a bike for Christmas this year thanks to the program.
“With regards to my business, it’s the happiest I am,” he says of handing out bikes. “I couldn’t ask for more at Christmas.”
—Obsession Bikes will be accepting donated bikes until Dec. 15 at 94 Lonsdale Ave. For info, call 604-985-2213.