The first two rules of Freewheelin’ Community Bikes’ Earn-a-Bike program have nothing to do with bikes.
- Show up.
- Show up on time.
On the outset, this might be confusing for a program that is centered around bike maintenance and repair skills, but Free Wheelin’ Community Bikes (FWCB) has a secret: Maintenance skills aren’t the only thing on the agenda.
Based in Indianapolis, Ind., FWCB is a nonprofit that uses bicycles to “bring out the best in people and their community.” Existing for seven years—with a formal curriculum in place for the past three—the program serves kids ages 10 to 16, who can earn bikes after attending a series of instructional courses, passing mechanical tests and logging volunteer hours in the FWCB bike shop. It’s eight weeks of commitment with a big pay off at the other end: a set of wheels, and the knowledge and confidence that comes from knowing how to repair a bicycle.
The instructors start with the basics—such as how to change a flat tire, grease a chain and adjust brakes—and move to tougher skills as the weeks progress. However, mechanical skills are not the only lessons being taught in the shop; for many of the participants, the program is also a crash course in confidence and responsibility.
Leadership skills and critical thinking are components of the curriculum—although somewhat hidden behind the hands-on lessons of bicycle repair. Students learn respect and relationship building with their fellow students and the organization’s devoted adult volunteers.
And the end result? In many cases, it is a transformation from interested-but-distracted kids to devoted, hard-working individuals with a mission. Roger Hasper, retail shop manager and lead teaching mechanic for FWCB, points out that students even come into the open shop to catch up on missed lessons or put in a little extra study time before a big quiz. These students are motivated, and the Earn-a-Bike program encourages and feeds off their enthusiasm.
“They see their friends knowing how to do something that was covered the week they missed. The positive peer pressure to learn those skills is incredibly powerful,” affirms Hasper.
Gabriel Ford was one of those students that graduated from the program with initiative and drive, despite knowing “nearly nothing” about bike maintenance before teaming up with FWCB. After he completed his eight weeks, Ford says he was hooked and wanted to stay engaged. “I love the environment at the shop,” he states. “I got so much out of the program, and I wanted to bring that same excitement to other kids.”
That opportunity presented itself this June when Ford was asked back to be an educator for the growing Earn-a-Bike program. With a grant from RTC, the organization was able to expand the program and bring Ford and other past students on board as instructors for the summer.
Being an instructor further fed his Ford’s passion for bikes and the community. “I would look forward to every day…” Ford explains. “Not many people get excited about going to work, but I loved teaching and being at the shop.”
It was a huge success to reengage past students, says Hasper, and he is optimistic that the program can be further engrained within the community.
If Gabriel Ford’s experience is any indication, it won’t take long for more kids to catch the Earn-a-Bike bug. And with a little positive peer pressure and a newfound love for bicycles, you can rest assured that they’ll show up to the shop on time—and walk away with a whole lot more than just a bike.