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The Holiday Bike Drive: Much more than just 300 free bikes

Posted by on December 6th, 2015 at 10:24 pm

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Her left hand is blurry because she just did that throttle-twist motion (which was immediately followed by this smile).
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you believe (as I do) that children are the true indicator species of a cycling-friendly city, then Portland just put a big down payment on its future.

At Legacy Emanuel Hospital in north Portland today the non-profit Community Cycling Center and over 270 volunteers helped give out over 300 bikes at their annual Holiday Bike Drive. It’s a tradition that has now spanned two decades; but the smiling and excited kids that rolled off with bikes could care less about all that. They just wanted to ride their new bikes.

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Event manager Patrick Loftus and volunteer Sheilagh Griffin.
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Steve Soto and his 12-year old son Luke volunteered together.

While this foul weather isn’t ideal for wee little ones to take to the streets, once they do start pedaling around the neighborhood they’ll be very well-prepared. That’s because the Holiday Bike Drive isn’t just about giving away free bikes — it’s about teaching each child how to be a competent rider and a responsible bike owner.

As I roamed the hallways and atrium at Legacy Emanuel today, I was impressed by the comprehensive approach the CCC takes with this event. It’s a much more involved process than you might think.

Each kid is pre-registered. From the moment they enter the doors of the event they are greeted by a volunteer. Once they check in and get their name badge they are escorted in groups (of 5-6 kids at a time) down the “Safety Corridor,” which is a hallway that leads to the main atrium where the bikes are lined up. The Safety Corridor is so named because it’s lined with four separate stations that educate the kids on: helmet use (many eggs were smashed to make the point); personal safety (flip-flops bad, reflective vests good); bike safety (is everything tight and where it should be?); and traffic sign basics.

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Meet your bike buddy.

After the safety lessons it’s time for each kid to meet their “Bike Buddy,” their personal volunteer that will be at their side for the rest of the day. The buddies lead the kids through a helmet-fitting station and then onto the main event: bike selection.

The bikes are lined up in neat rows according to size and the kids can choose any one they want. Some are overwhelmed and too nervous to move without prodding. Others just pick whichever one’s closest. And others still, take their time. I saw one girl walk up and down the aisles several times before she found just the right bike.

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I caught this young lady swiping away her dad’s hand, as if to say, “I got this!”.
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After a bike was chosen it was then fitted and accessorized to each kid’s liking. The bikes were rolled into one of a half-dozen or so service bays where expert mechanics sprung into action. They’d put on training wheels, or take them off. They’d raise seat posts, adjust handlebars, and make sure the bike is a good fit. From the fit and service station it was finally time to ride.

The Bike Rodeo was the penultimate stop of the day. And it’s where everything comes together. Some kids who hadn’t smiled all day (most likely due to nervousness at all the attention they were getting), finally let out their joy once the wheels got turning. The kids who didn’t yet know how to ride were led to a special section of the rodeo where eager (yet patient) volunteers reveled in the thrill of teaching them.

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Learning to ride.
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She did it!
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After making it around the rodeo course a few times, there was just one final thing to do: say thanks. Each family took the time to sit down and make a thank-you card for the Community Cycling Center and volunteers.

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— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

NOTE: At BikePortland, we love your comments. We love them so much that we devote many hours every week to read them and make sure they are productive, inclusive, and supportive. That doesn't mean you can't disagree with someone. It means you must do it with tact and respect. If you see an inconsiderate or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan and Michael

13 Comments
  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley December 6, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    What a perfect end to a truly wonderful weekend (it was my birthday). I love seeing all the intent, happy, excited young faces. The freedom and power their new bikes will give them can’t be quantified.

    I’ve known about this event for years, but have never really known how it all comes together. What an amazing project, and a great report.

    Do other cities have a CCC? Or are we just specially blessed here in Stumptown?

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  • Lizzy December 7, 2015 at 4:01 am

    The smiles say it all. A wonderful annual event.

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  • Mike Quiglery December 7, 2015 at 5:59 am

    Great to see the organization and handling rather than just hand out the bikes and have the kids hit the road.

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  • dbrunker December 7, 2015 at 7:21 am

    This is great but… didn’t they used to give out 1000 bikes?

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    • K'Tesh December 7, 2015 at 8:38 am

      From the back issues I saw, they range from 300 to 475 bikes. I guess it all depends on the donations that year.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 7, 2015 at 8:57 am

      Hi dbrunker,

      Nope. They’ve never given out 1000 bikes. You might be thinking of Congressman Blumenauer’s 1000 bike challenge.

      They did used to give out more bikes in the past, but now I think the idea is to focus more on quality interactions with the kids instead of just a large number.

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  • Granpa December 7, 2015 at 7:51 am

    Just wonderful

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  • Dave December 7, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Great–so now how to keep them riding as teens, and to break the driving/manhood link in teenage boys!

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    • dbrunker December 8, 2015 at 11:50 am

      * Give them bikes in their middle-school years not just to little kids.

      * Have a bike shop in all Portland high schools that teaches students to be bike mechanics.
      * Have the public donate old bikes to high schools.
      * Have bike mechanic students refurbish bikes and give them to under privileged students.

      * Teach high school students the cost benefits of long term bicycle commuting and point out the freedom of travel they can experience while they’re in high school.

      * Expand the Bike Commuter Challenge to include competition between each high grades and staff within the same school as well as each school competing with each other

      * Get road racing included in high school sports by the Oregon School Activities Association

      * Found a touring club in each high school.

      Before anyone says it would be too expensive remember each of those can be started as an after school program and run by volunteers. All that’s needed to get it going is permission and the willingness to make it happen.

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  • Paul Wilkins December 7, 2015 at 9:54 am

    This is how to make sure we all can have nice things.

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  • Kim D December 7, 2015 at 10:51 am

    As a multi-year volunteer for this event, I can tell you that it is indeed about quality interactions with the kids *and* adults that come with them. 99.99% of the kidlets are super excited about the experience (one or two are so sensory-overwhelmed they cannot handle the event).

    The CCC is trying to hand out 1,000 bikes over the course of a year over, hopefully three events, with the Holiday Bike Drive being the cornerstone event where, hopefully, we’ll be able to hand out about 400 bikes next year. We had some things pop up earlier this year that made the back end of the event difficult to pull together this time.

    You should come help out, it’s incredibly fun and fantastic to see kidlets enthusiasm when they get their bike and take if for a spin.

    Thanks for the great coverage Jonathan! Next year we’ll get you ghost riding a 12″ to help restock the floor =)

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  • reader December 7, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    If these kids felt like I did when I got my first bike (a green Schwinn Stingray), I envy them.

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    • B. Carfree December 7, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      I still remember my first bike. It was a rusted formerly purple thing with a knee-action spring on the front that was far too big for me. I had to use the curb to mount it and sit on the top tube. About a year later, my dad offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse: a brand new Bearcat sting-ray, purchased at a hardware store for me if I gave him my too-large bike. I don’t know how he managed to put the bike together with me panting on him and asking, “is it ready yet?”

      First bikes are momentous occasions. Those were beautiful photos of some life-changing moments.

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