50 Bikes for 50 Kids program helps kids and adults become cyclists

Photos courtesy of the North Natomas Transportation Management Association.

Donate a bike to a child and they will love to ride it, but teach a child how to build and maintain a bike and they will become a cyclist forever. That’s the mission behind the 50 Bikes For 50 Kids program, founded in Alaska and now in California. The annual event matches 50 local youths with teams of volunteers to assemble a bicycle for each child on the team. The volunteers aren’t bike shop owners or mechanics, rather they are local citizens who are often mechanical novices. Prior to the event, they meet with trained mechanics who show them the basics and then check their work for safety after the bicycle is complete. As it’s being built, the volunteers pass along this newfound knowledge to the kids who get hands-on lessons in mechanical skills, teamwork and cooperation. To participate, the kids are nominated by local youth organizations based on their trustworthiness, responsibility and other qualities.

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The event began in Anchorage, Alaska, where it matched 251 kids with bikes. The extra was a student who wasn’t selected but heard about the event and attended anyway. The volunteers were so impressed with his enthusiasm they purchased a bike for him to work on. For the past three years the workshop has been held in Sacramento, California. There 647 volunteers have donated 2,391 hours of their time. Each year the event improves, with a new skills course added to the 2015 event held on January 15. Once their bikes were completed, students could learn basic bike safety with some on-bike practice.

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The funding for the event has evolved over the years but the intent has stayed the same: an opportunity for organizations and businesses to help make cycling a part of a child’s future. A total of 48 organizations, businesses and individuals donated in some way to the 2015 event. The Specialized Community Grant Program and the Natomas Bike Shop subsidized the bicycles so sponsorships could be “sold” for $250. The bikes were actually valued at more than $400, and included were donated helmets and bike locks.

To learn more, visit the 50 Bikes for 50 Kids website.

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