If you’re ever near Indianapolis’ North Central Avenue and notice a group of young people riding bikes to the local ice cream shop or library, there may be more to the outing than meets the eye.
Chances are, you’re catching a glimpse into the mission of Freewheelin’ Community Bikes, the only youth-focused community bike shop in Indianapolis and the surrounding counties.
“We want to teach young people about how awesome this affordable transportation is,” says LaNisha Clark, Freewheelin’ Bikes executive director. “We show them how to maintain a bike and how to ride in an urban setting.”
What Is a Community Bike Shop?
The concept of a community bike shop is popular all across the United States, with the hopes of making bikes more accessible to people. Freewheelin’ Bikes has taken this idea to heart. It’s estimated that since its founding in 2008, Freewheelin’ has impacted over 5,000 students through a wide-range of programs.
“I’ve been a part of the Freewheelin’ community for three years as both a camper and now as an apprentice,” says 14-year-old Jake Laverty-Lee. “I used to be very shy when faced with new people I haven’t met or in things I haven’t tried. The Freewheelin’ community has made me more extroverted.”
Kids aged 10-18 can participate in Freewheelin’ Bikes. They offer B.R.A.K.E.S. camps, a Y.E.E.T. paid internship for 14-18 year-olds, and Apron programs, which are bike mechanic classes. Young people can even earn a bike upon completing the Green Apron level class. This level includes eight hours of learning about bike tools, bike parts, and survival concepts like fixing a flat tire or what to do when a chain pops off. Then, the students spend eight hours out on supervised rides on roads in an urban atmosphere.
The hope is that as kids move through the program, they’ll gain confidence and learn important skills for life. “They pull out onto that street on their bike and they smile and they look free. It gives them a strong sense of independence,” Clark says.
Along with youth programs, Freewheelin’ Bikes is also home to a bike shop that offers refurbished bikes, accessories, and repair work for community members. The shop helps to fund Freewheelin’s community work and provides people with affordable and reliable transportation.
Looking Ahead to the Future
Moving forward, Freewheelin’ Bikes plans to continue traditional programming, while expanding their community outreach. They’ve started offering a daytime homeschool class, as well as an initiative to take tools and bikes into underserved communities to teach them about how bikes can transform your life.
Fourteen-year-old Lee has a message for kids who want to join Freewheelin’ but are nervous about taking the first step. “I would tell them that every road has bumps, but being on a bike makes them all the more fun,” he says. “Give it just a few hours and they’ll want to tell all their friends about Freewheelin’, too.”
If your child is interested in joining Freewheelin’ Bikes, check out freewheelinbikes.org for their upcoming programs or email [email protected].