Free Bikes 4 Kidz enters pilot season

Free Bikes 4 Kidz Madison, the local branch of a national bike-giving nonprofit, is going into its pilot season under enthusiastic leadership.

“The process is, we collect them, we refurbish them, and we give them away,” said Andy Quant, (pictured here) executive director and founder of Free Bikes 4 Kidz Madison. “It’s pretty simple.”

Free Bikes 4 Kids came out of the garage of original founder Terry Esau when the program started in Minneapolis about seven years ago. Esau and his friends saw the need for donating bikes to kids that can’t afford them, or just can’t afford one every time they grow out of the bike they have.

“There’s a lot of kids who won’t have the opportunity to own their own bike, or a lot of times, ever experience that feeling that so many of us had,” Quandt said.

Quandt wants every child to know what it’s like to go home with a shiny, good-as-new bike and a helmet to match, regardless of economic standing.

In Minneapolis, the program has a dedicated following of volunteers, mechanics and specialists who all contribute to the mission of Free Bikes 4 Kidz. Now, the program helps put kids on bikes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Georgia and Utah.

Two seasons ago, 5,512 bikes were given away in Minneapolis in a single day. On Jan. 13 of this year, the Madison team gathered 404 bikes, which are being stored in a warehouse with space donated by Alexander RE.

“We’re shooting to give away 500 bikes at the end of March,” Quandt said. “They’re still kind of trickling in.”

The group gets many bikes donated by individuals, and many more from the Madison police stations. Quandt says he gets calls from them to pick up sometimes up to 25 bicycles at a time — mostly lost or stolen ones that can’t be connected to an original owner.

“Right out of the gates, I reached out to the local health system; I met with Healthy Dane, and SSM Health stepped up to be a major sponsor in our pilot system,” he said. “They took a chance on me, provided us with some startup money.”

He points to that community support as a major boost for the project, saying Madison is an especially good place to get it rolling. Up until months ago, it was just in Minneapolis, but Atlanta recently gave away about 450 bikes, and Salt Lake City “did alright,” according to Quandt.

“Here in Madison, we’re on track to do about the same,” Quandt said. “We have a much smaller population than those other cities, so I think we’re doing really well.”

The nonprofit is also partnering with the Boys & Girls Club and Madison Metropolitan School District, something Quandt says is drumming up a lot of interest for the project in the region.

“You know Madison has a really rich biking culture, I’ve gotten great support from the community,” Quandt said. “That makes it really easy for this pilot season, to just prove the model and prove that this is something Madison wants and needs and can handle.”

Quandt took part in the giveaway day in Minneapolis on Christmas two years ago — an experience he says was unforgettable.

“It was an absolutely magical experience,” Quandt said. “The sheer amount of smiles I saw that day was just great.”

As the Madison chapter of the project grows, he wants to get on the same schedule as in Minneapolis. There, pick-ups and collection days happen in early fall, and then bikes are given away in a few months during the busy holiday season.

“I fully intend to collect 1,000 bikes in October,” Quandt said.

–By Alex Moe