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Kids learn bike independence through Open Roads

Two boys grab a tire at the Fixapalooza workshop
Nancy Camden

The Open Roads Bike Program teaches kids how to work on their bikes. Through a Kalamazoo Community Foundation workshop, Ethan Alexander created the five-year-old program. 

From a small garage full of used bicycles and tools in the Edison Neighborhood of Kalamazoo, staff members, community volunteers and kids repair bikes during what Alexander calls a “Fixapalooza.”

Credit Nancy Camden

“This is a workshop that we offer to anyone and everyone in the community as a way to number one teach kids bike mechanics and social skills,” says Alexander. “And, number two, we just invite folks from the community to come down and learn about bikes, support the bike culture and get to be a part of something positive.”

Tim Brady is a mechanic instructor.

“Kids bring bikes and we sort them out and put them back on the road again,” he says.

What Brady likes to do is have the kids watch him do a repair and then have them try it or assist him in a repair. It’s based on their level of ability.

“We try to fix the most essential things because we have a limited amount of time. So, if they need brakes fixed, that’s usually the first thing I look at,” Brady says. “A lot of the times these kids bring bikes that they think are just disasters. They haven’t maybe worked ever since they got them and they’re just amazed that you can make it work again in such a short period of time. It is really a wonderful organizations and it’s really fun. I have a great time.”

There area a variety of workshops including one in which kids can earn a bike by learning social skills and mechanic skills. Open Roads is grateful to the community for donated bikes that keep the program going.

Ben Brown, who had no idea that the bike program existed, was very pleased to look around and see ages from “people who are seven to people who may be closer to seventy to the diversity of income, ethnic groups, everybody.” He says the kids are learning important mechanical skills as well as social skills like team working, negotiation and problem solving.

A boy named Thomas expresses how one must have patience to work with bikes. He says he learned at this Fixapalooza how to change an inner tube and use a hand pump for the first time. Working with the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, Open Roads is hoping by next summer to have a central office and workshop space.

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