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

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

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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


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