Nobody likes to tune up a bicycle more than Dave Givens, a frequent face at Manchester United Methodist Church’s Bike Rehab Ministry, and today he’s sharing the experience with me. As I replace a worn tube and tire on a used Murray road/gravel bike, he cleans the front fork and dropouts that previously held the wheel in place.
“I’m a mechanical engineer,” Givens says, wiping down the aluminum with a clean rag. “I like turning wrenches. That’s the fun of it for me. And it’s also a way to give back to the community. So, I get to do something I like and provide bikes to kids and adults who need them. It’s a pretty good deal, when you think about it.”
On this Saturday morning, Givens is one of about two dozen volunteer men and women scrubbing, lubricating and repairing bikes that will go to local charities (or be sold to support the ministry). The most common recipients include Kingdom House, a group that helps the economically disadvantaged achieve independence; Oasis International, a non-profit that cares for those who seek refuge from war-torn countries; and Circle of Concern, a food pantry in Valley Park, Mo.
The new owners of the bikes use them to ride to school or work, to run errands around town or just for good old-fashioned fun. “Our goal is to provide the opportunity for people of all ages to have the joy of riding a bicycle when financial constraints make it impossible,” says Jim Vail, spokesperson and former coordinator of the ministry.
The Bike Rehab Ministry wasn’t created by a group of cyclists but rather by a group that prepared breakfast each month for individuals joining Manchester United Methodist Church in Ballwin, Mo. The group started setting aside spare change in a coffee can each month with the idea of buying a bike for charity at the end of the year. Two months later, that idea morphed into a movement to collect used bikes, fix them up and donate them.
The ministry quickly grew, donating 60 bikes its first year, 100 its second and 206 its third. Last year, its 18th year, the ministry gave 750 bikes to those who needed them. Since its founding, it has donated a total of approximately 6,500 bikes.
“We do everything that needs to be done on a bicycle that we can do,” says Vail as volunteers work in the background, chatting and joking. Common tasks include replacing tires, tubes, grips, brake pads, cables, cable housing, reflectors, seats, pedals and kick stands.
“If you’re a first-timer, you’re paired off with someone until you know what you’re doing,” Vail continues. “And if you run into a situation you’re not familiar with, there’s usually someone right there that knows how to do it.”
After nearly two decades of reconditioning bikes, there’s not a lot the do-gooders can’t do — but if there is they take the bike to West County Cycles up the road in Ellisville, Mo., where the repairs are frequently done for free.
Most of the 15 bike stands, tools and work stations that the Bike Rehab Ministry utilizes in the building across the street from the main church sanctuary were also free, either donated by church members or salvaged from old garage sales. Indeed, Vail is quick to point out that the success of the ministry is due in large part to the generosity of its 100 active volunteers, church members and contributors from the community.
Bikes are received directly from individuals at the church sanctuary or collected from local shops. They are then evaluated by ministry volunteers. Some bikes are in good shape and will be safe for riding again; others are not salvageable as a whole but can be broken down and used for spare parts on other rehab bikes. Every bike is logged, and each one receives a tag to identify what cleaning, adjustments or repairs are needed.
Once the bike is reconditioned, a new helmet is added and it is ready to donate.
Dean and Nancy Wilson have been helping with the Bike Rehab Ministry since its inception. Dean, a former associate pastor at Manchester United Methodist Church, is a founding member of the MO-Hab Riders, another ministry that each year organizes a multi-day bike trip across Missouri, mostly using the Katy Trail, in order to create awareness and raise funds for Habitat for Humanity.
Dean tinkers with a bike while I speak with Nancy, also a retired pastor, who now helps with the “behind the scenes” needs of the Bike Rehab Ministry — inventory, scheduling, delivery, putting together bike helmets, etc.
“Sixty-six,” says Nancy as we begin to clean up our work stations for the afternoon. “Sixty-six bikes rehabbed today.” Everyone within earshot cheers.
The volunteers are a loyal group, says Vail. They gather four times a year for big “rehab weekends” like the one I’m attending but see each other weekly at smaller sessions held Monday through Thursday. Inventory has increased substantially since the ministry delivered its 5,000th bike in 2015, adds Vail.
If the idea of rehabbing a bike seems overwhelming, Vail says it’s “really not so hard” and encourages interested parties to visit manchesterumc.org/bikerahab for more information. Volunteers do not need to be members of Manchester United Methodist Church or have any experience with bicycles.
“There’s a place for everyone to get involved,” says Vail. “Sometimes one of the best ways to help a family get on its feet is by putting them on wheels.”
Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.