My first bicycle had training wheels. My second was a Sting-Ray. Remember those? With the banana seats?
My third was a Schwinn. It seems all bikes were Schwinns back then. It was light blue and had thin tires and three gears, and I was in high school and rode it to my then-girlfriend’s house every chance I got. It was as close as I came to the independence of a car.
But then came my driver’s license, and I put away childish wheels. And for many years, until I took up bike riding as a form of exercise, I never bothered to straddle a seat, shift a gear, or line up foot pedals again.
The most unanswerable question in the world may be this: What happened to my old bicycle? They just seem to fade away. Maybe, after years of neglect, they roll off in the middle of the night, lonely and dejected, and gather in some ancient bicycle burial ground, lowering their kick stands one last time.
Well, today I am offering a more honorable ending for your old two-wheeled friend. A new sense of purpose. No more gathering dirt behind the lawn mower in the back of the garage.
Today, I am asking you to dig out that bicycle, admit that you’re not using it, admit that your kids aren’t going to need it because they’re actually in their 30s now and haven’t lived with you for years.
Take that bicycle. Bring it any Monday to the Somerset Collection in Troy. Donate it to a great cause. And get a $25 gift certificate in the process.
Let me explain.
Help on wheels
We are staring a new initiative at S.A.Y. Detroit. It’s called “Mi-Cycle.” The Mi is for Michigan. The cycle … well, you know that part. After analyzing the basic problems plaguing poor people in our city, we determined that getting around is as challenging as getting by.
“We work hard on getting the homeless and indigent back on their feet,” explains Chad Audi, president and CEO of the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, which serves 2,200 clients in 19 Detroit facilities every day. “We get them trained for jobs, get them into housing. But there is always an obstacle for them to get to work or school: transportation.
“There are many reasons. Insurance is high. They can’t afford a car. There’s no reliable public transport.
“We think that bikes would be a perfect solution to help put people back into the mainstream and allow them to get to their jobs until they secure enough money to buy cars.”
We’ve heard this from many people and agencies around the city. Detroit is so spread out. Even going a few miles is a challenge. While bikes can’t be used in every situation, they could make a huge difference in most.
So we searched for a place to make and refurbish bikes. We found one with Marygrove Conservancy, which has kindly provided a nice big space for our “factory.” And we hired someone with bicycle experience to oversee it.
Our plan is to employ workers in this process from the very population we are trying to help.
But first we need product.
A life-changing ride
This is where you come in, and that old bicycle gathering dust in the shed or the basement. Refurbishing bicycles is faster and less labor-intensive than making them from scratch. We can take pretty much any bike — if it’s broken there are likely parts that can be used — and tear it down, strip it, paint it, and reassemble it in about three weeks.
When we’re finished, it will be distinctive — a beautiful teal-blue, with the Mi-Cycle logo on it. And we will begin giving them out through agencies, community centers and charitable organizations with clients who need transportation.
The man behind our efforts is a story by himself. Chuck Nagy, 52, grew up in the Detroit area and worked as a railroad mechanic for nearly 17 years. The job was fairly sedentary and at one point, he’d ballooned to nearly 400 pounds and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day.
One afternoon, he went for a bike ride with his wife. He had trouble lasting an hour and could barely make it up a hill. “I almost quit,” he recalls. “My heart was racing. But I realized, for my health, I needed to continue riding.”
He threw himself into it, and became a fanatic, eventually racing BMX bicycles, starting a biking magazine, then a clothing line. He found work with Detroit Bikes and learned the ins and outs of bicycle construction.
When the opportunity arose to combine his passion with helping others, he jumped.
“There are so many ways this idea has the potential to change people’s lives,” he said.
Chuck is overseeing the small bike factory. He will help hire people who’ll learn to refurbish and build bicycles. Most of those workers will come from the very population the bicycles aim to reach. It won’t surprise anyone to one day see Mi-Cycle employees riding their teal Mi-Cycles to the factory.
If you agree this is a win-win, and a positive (and green) idea for addressing a fundamental need in our city, then you can be a part of the effort by dropping off your old bicycle at the rear parking lot of the north side of the Somerset Collection (near the California Pizza Kitchen) any Monday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
There will be a sign with a number to call. Someone will come out, collect your bike — AND give you a $25 gift certificate to Somerset (which can be used in any store there) as a way of saying thanks.
That’s a pretty good deal for doing good, isn’t it?
I ask Chuck if he knows where his first bicycle went. He laughs. “I have no idea, but I loved it so much, I went online a few years ago and found the same model and ordered it.”
That’s one way of honoring your old two-wheeled pal. Another is to donate it and let it make a better life for someone else.
So, please, if you can, move those trash cans, unlock that shed, shift those boxes. And the next time someone asks, “Whatever happened to your old bicycle?” you can have a pretty cool answer.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.