"Getting bikes to kids
Show up at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church at 34th Street and Central on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday afternoon and you will find all shapes, sizes and colors of bicycles in what was probably once a Sunday school room, spilling out into a long hallway, in various states of repair.
Look a little deeper into the center of the activity and you’ll find the seemingly unflappable Nancy Stimson, a former United Methodist minister and one of the founders of the Freewheelin’ Community Bicycle Cooperative.
Stimson was called to the ministry of kids and bikes after being “dusted” on the Monon by a guy speeding past wearing Lycra shorts that read “B.A.P. Curious.” Stimson went home and Googled “B.A.P.” She found information about the Bicycle Action Project, a youth bicycle project in Indianapolis from 1988 to 2004, the first of its kind in the United States, according to B.A.P. founder Charles Hammond.
Stimson said she fell in love with their mission, which was to allow kids to earn bikes through sweat equity and bike mechanic training. Freewheelin’ is modeled after B.A.P. in that kids put in 30 hours of working and learning to “graduate,” that is, get a bike.
“I remembered the pride and the joy and sense of power I used to have when I would work on my own bike. Not to mention how I felt when I was out riding,” Stimson said.
In what Stimson describes as a “collision of the stars,” she tracked down Hammond and talked with De’Amon Harges from Broadway United Methodist Church and the Mapleton-Fall Creek Community Development Corporation. Last March, they, along with several others, gathered at Stimson’s “Starbucks office” at 29th and College. Another meeting followed. Stimson said the conversation evolved into, “Hey, we’re here together. There will never be a better time. Let’s go for it!” So they did. Freewheelin’ opened its doors June 9 and held its first class June 12.
Six months later, on a recent Thursday afternoon, 13-year-old Robert Duncan coasts up the sidewalk, finishing a test ride. He’s a “graduate” of Freewheelin’ — that is, he put in his 30 hours of bike-mechanic training and work to earn his “new” bicycle back in September.
“Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about bikes,” Duncan said. “Now I can strip a bike down and put it back together.” As a graduate, he’s applying what he’s learned and continuing to volunteer so he can earn credits toward things like cycling shoes. Which is a good thing, because what’s the point in learning how to build and repair bikes if you don’t ride them?
With some nudging from the Freewheelin’ staff, the youth, most between 10 and 15, some of whom come from the surrounding neighborhood and several of whom are from Lutherwood Group Home, get to learn new habits for living and working, all the while making low-cost bicycles available for sale. With 15 graduates and about 40 donated bikes in stock in varying stages of readiness six months after opening its doors, Freewheelin’ is rolling off to a great start, “building bikes, character and community.”