If there’s one holiday toy that has stood the test of time, it’s the bicycle. Though simplistic compared to its high-tech, HD, touch-screen, gadget-y counterparts, year after year, the lowly bicycle claims a spot near the top of kids’ wish lists everywhere.
For many children, the desire to own a bike is fulfilled Christmas morning when they discover a shiny new bike under the tree. For other children, and even some adults, a bicycle isn’t that easy to come by.
That’s where Ron King, founder of Recycle Bikes for Kids, comes in. King accepts broken or discarded bikes and parts, repairs them and churns out “new” bikes for kids and some adults.
It all started around the holidays in 2007, when he saw on the news that the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police was repairing bikes for kids and donating them to the Watershed Project. Inspired, King set out to do that very thing on his own.
His goal was to buy 100 used bicycles, repair them and give them away. But when word got out about his mission, people began giving him their discarded bikes. Soon, he had collected more than 400 bikes, and Recycle Bikes for Kids was born.
In the first year, King and his volunteers repaired and donated 300 bicycles. The project has grown exponentially over the years, and in 2012, King turned out more than 1,600 bikes. He’s on track to match that this year, too.
Impressive, yes, but King doesn’t consider the number of bikes a measure of success. Instead, he hopes to have all repaired bikes placed in homes the day before Christmas.
“On Christmas Eve, if there’s one bike left here that’s been repaired, we didn’t meet our goal,” he says, as we sit in an office that does double-duty for Recycle Bikes for Kids and Refurbished Office Panels, King’s day job.
Bikes and parts come to King from a variety of sources, including the general public, area churches, Walmart and ABC Scrap. Additionally, King says all the local bike shops are supportive, donating both good parts and broken bikes.
“We always have bikes,” he says, “but repairing them is the bottleneck in this effort.”
Recycle Bikes relies 100 percent on the help of volunteers to repair the bikes, and King estimates he and his volunteers – which drop in during regular volunteer times Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings – repair about 50 bikes a week.
Come Saturday, King says he may have two volunteers, or he may have 20, but the number of hands on deck directly impacts the number of bikes that can be repaired.
Volunteers need no special skill set, just a willingness to work. King references a cub scout group that came in and washed bikes (he never wants to give a child a dirty bike), and a group of ladies who repaired seats one day with brightly colored, patterned duct tape.
Just as he requires little of his volunteers, King requires little of those who receive bikes. “Kids just have to walk through the door,” he says. For adults who need a bike, he simply asks them to work for three hours repairing bikes.
King has a relationship with Our House, and many of the shelter’s working homeless volunteer in exchange for a bike they can ride to and from their jobs.
Occasionally King gets tandem bikes, and these he usually gives to the Arkansas School for the Visually Impaired. “All you need is a pilot for the tandem, and those who are visually impaired can even ride a bike,” he says. When an adult tricycle crosses his path, he gives it to a child with special needs, who might not otherwise have the balance necessary to ride a bike.
“It’s been very rewarding for me,” he smiles, blue eyes sparkling. “In five years, you can accumulate a lot of stories.”
But costs can stack up, too. When asked where he gets money for supplies, King says nonchalantly that it comes from his own pocket. “The material cost per bike must be under $3, which includes tubes, grips, WD-40 and lubricants,” he says.
Next on King’s agenda is to turn Recycle Bikes for Kids into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which will help generate operating funds and ensure the organization reaches as many kids as possible. It’s a goal he would like to start working toward in the next three months.
“It has gotten to the size that me trying to run it alone has become a hindrance to its success,” he says. He adds that Recycle Bikes already has a local and regional presence – reaching as far as Conway, Malvern and Fordyce – but with more funds and people, it could easily benefit kids all over the state.
“I need someone who can organize volunteers, and the shop needs to be open more hours that I can provide for – more evenings, more days, etc.,” he says.
Until then, you’ll find King working feverishly with a team of volunteer “elves” to clean, repair and rebuild bikes for kids and families who might need one just in time for Christmas.
Feel like joining him? Regularly scheduled volunteer hours take place Tuesday evenings, and most Saturdays from 9 a.m.-noon. Call 952-4581, or email RecycleBikesForKids@Gmail.com for more information.
Recycle Bikes for Kids
Where: 1212 E. Sixth St.
Info: 952-4581, Facebook.com/RecycleBikesForKids