Free Bikes 4 Kidz in Plymouth

Free Bikes 4 Kidz donates thousands of bicycles every year.
Staff members from Tonka Cycle & Ski volunteer at Free Bikes 4 Kidz, along with Minnesota's own three-time Tour de France winner, Greg LeMond (center).

Remember the day you received your first bicycle? You jumped onto the seat,
placed your feet on the pedals and flew down the street—whether you had a parent
behind you or not. But as basic as this moment in time seems, not every young
kid is able to experience this bliss. That’s where cycling enthusiast Terry Esau
comes in.

Esau first fell in love with his own bike when he was just over 3 years old.
A self-proclaimed “cycle-aholic,” Esau road cross-country with a high school
friend at age 16 and founded a cycling club with fellow enthusiasts in
adulthood, through which he bikes anywhere from 50–100 miles on each outing. Now
59, Esau says he still grins each time he hops on his bicycle. “Who doesn’t love
riding a bike?” he asks.

This passion inspired Esau’s idea for Free Bikes 4 Kidz, a nonprofit
organization that donates bikes to kids in need. Launched in 2008, Free Bikes 4
Kidz is now going nationwide with chapters set to open in Salt Lake City and in
Indianapolis; the latter site will partner with several University of Indiana
hospitals. “I get calls every week from places around the country and people who
say ‘help us do what you’re doing,’” Esau says.

Esau’s mission all began with a phone call from friend Van Erickson, who told
Esau he had talked with a neighbor whose family was having a tough year
financially and couldn’t afford holiday gifts. Esau, who has written and
produced the musical elements of KARE-11 news programs through the years,
decided to use his connections to promote the initiative. After appearing on a
KARE-11 program, the pair received more than 250 donations, and invited any and
all to travel to their shop to choose a bicycle. After realizing the demand was
much greater than their supply, they started to expand their efforts.

Esau believes that bikes are the epitome of childhood and represent a
significant moment in a child’s development. Bike rides increase self-esteem,
release anger and bring happiness. “We want to get every kid on a bike,” he
says. “Childhood isn’t quite the same if you don’t have a bicycle. There’s that
sense of independence, that opportunity to go exploring in your neighborhood.
Owning a bike gives you responsibility, and it also gives you great joy.”

Free Bikes 4 Kidz now partners with more than 150 nonprofit organizations in
the Twin Cities area. Each fall, Esau and his team collect bikes in two
different warehouses where they repair, wash and store them before sending them
off to their nonprofit partners for distribution. “We now know that kids who
really need a bike are getting a bike,” he says.

The organization’s collecting and giving season runs from the second week of
October through the second week in December—just in time for the holidays. (Mark
your calendars to donate that unused bike today.) Thousands of volunteers,
including professional mechanics, travel to the designated warehouses (last
year’s locations were in Plymouth and Mendota Heights) to get the bikes in
tip-top shape.

Bike mechanic Ray Meyer first joined the Free Bikes 4 Kidz team in 2009. A
retired engineer, he says he’s always been fascinated with mechanics. In 2012,
Meyer logged 340 hours with Free Bikes 4 Kidz and continues to be one of the
team’s most respected and knowledgeable resources.

In 2013, the team collected more than 6,000 bikes of all shapes and sizes.
Free Bikes 4 Kidz also partners with Allina Health—during the second weekend in
October, close to 50 Allina clinic and hospital sites serve as collection
points. Each child who receives a bike also receives a helmet, courtesy of the
health group.

Esau is enthusiastic about bringing bikes to as many kids as possible around
the metro and now around the country. “We’re right on the verge of going viral,”
he says about the opening of the new chapters. “Good stuff is happening.” //