We repair a huge number of kids bikes at the BBP every year and our crew of Volunteers does the vast majority of that work. Without Volunteers, there is no way we would have been able to give away 335 bicycles during last year's Christmas giveaway. If we estimate that the average kids bike weighs about 25 pounds, that adds up to 8,375 pounds of bicycle love! That is some seriously heavy lifting!
Some folks might see working on kids bikes as a menial task that isn't deserving of their time or best effort. I beg to differ. I really do love working on kids bikes and try to share that enthusiasm with our Volunteers. Many people are stoked to work on kids bikes out of the goodness of their hearts but I thought I'd share a few of the reasons why working on kids bikes really matters for the mechanic, the rider and the BBP.
1: Build a Solid Base of Mechanical Skills
For a new mechanic or even those with more experience, kids bikes provide an ideal path to build your skills. When working on simple bikes with only a single speed and coaster brake, you can focus on tight quality control, thorough cleaning, correct tool selection, precise bearing adjustments and getting fasteners properly torqued without distraction from all the complexity of shifters, derailleurs, cables or housing. Once those essential skills are mastered, you can step up to the next level working on bike with hand brakes. After that, most of the 24-inch-wheeled kids bikes we repair (and always have lots of demand for) are basically adult bikes with smaller wheels. Often, they're even more challenging to work on than adult bikes since their young riders are big enough to put a serious hurtin' on their ride but not often aware enough to maintain it! Once you've worked your way through the hierarchy of kids bikes, adult bikes are a natural next step.
2: Create Positive Early Cycling Experiences
Many kids (and adults too!) are scared away from riding bikes because of bad experiences on unsafe, poorly assembled bicycles purchased from department stores. Department store bikes account for at least 90% of the kids bikes we get donated and we see all kinds of horrors: handlebars, saddles or pedals loose, dragging brakes, forks on backward, bearings so tight the wheels barely turn... the list goes on. Most of these issues are directly related to shoddy assembly jobs. The bikes themselves aren't the problem. When we repair one of these bikes and send it back out into the community with smooth bearings, functional brakes, crisp shifting and properly torqued fasteners, we are creating the opportunity for that young rider to fall in love with cycling and discover the true potential of the bicycle without being hamstrung by a shaky, sketchy bike that could fall apart at any moment.
3: Keep the Flow of Bikes Moving!
Here at the BBP, we rarely suffer from a lack of donated bicycles. On the contrary, sometimes the community's generosity with donations can be pretty overwhelming. During the height of the spring cleaning season this year, there were several days where we were taking in 60-75 donated bikes per day. With that volume of donations, we need all the help we can get to prevent bicycle avalanches in our back yard! Without the work of our awesome volunteers getting bikes repaired and disassembled, we'd be quickly buried. Every bike that makes it out of the stacks in the yard frees up three more to be repaired! When we have more bikes repaired than we need for a giveaway, we are able to sell the extras at bargain prices to help meet the constant demand for kids bikes and keep the shop's lights on! Everybody wins when we are able to manage the flow of donations well.
3: Get Creative!
Sometimes wrenching on bicycles is a pretty dry job. When we're completely focused on pure function it is easy to lose touch with the creative side of bike work. Working on kids bikes often allows us to take a more fun, lighthearted approach. For many of our giveaways, we have kids fill out a "Dream Bike Card" that describes their perfect bike. Some kids are pretty vague with their imaginings or just aren't very picky. Sometimes we get very specific requests regarding color options, add-ons and accessories. While we may not have the ability to install actual fairy wings or jet engines, we can often do a heck of a lot to build that particular kid the bike of their dreams. With all of our bikes and huge stock of parts and accessories to pull from, we have a nearly infinite ability to customize and get creative when building up a sweet ride for a special kid. It is absolutely worth taking that extra time when you see a kid immediately recognize "their bike" before you even present it to them.
5: Make Old Things New Again
I absolutely abhor waste. I'd always rather see things be reused or re-purposed than thrown away. One of the reasons I love working at BBP and on kids bikes in particular is that we're saving bikes from the landfill every single day. If not for the BBP, many of the bikes that we repair, resell or donate would likely end up in a heap of scrap out at the dump. Of course, some bikes are too far gone or aren't worth saving but every bike that we successfully recycle is one less bike wasted. When bikes or parts do need to be scrapped, the proceeds go to benefit the Action Jackson Fund, a scholarship program for Idaho kids. However, many times the dirtiest, ugliest donations turn out to be the most awesome finished bikes. All they need is a little love, care and cleaning. I love unearthing these diamonds in the rough and watching them transform.
There are as many good reasons to fix up these kids bikes as there are kids who will ride them or mechanics who will work on them. I know I've barely scratched the surface here. Feel free to chime in with a comment and let us know why you love working on kids bikes!