Founder Susan Runsvold talks about the 2011 event
Every year on a cold morning in December, a horde of volunteers descend on to San Jose’s Convention Hall tent and get together to assemble kids’ bikes. Huge fundraising efforts are held throughout the year by an organization called TurningWheels for Kids and these 2400 brand new bikes come in big bike boxes waiting to be assembled. Most of the volunteers are cyclists themselves and would rather be out on the Bay Area trails or roads enjoying the sport they love. But on this one Saturday of the year, they get together to build kids’ bikes.
The volunteers come from bike clubs or corporations and are assembled in teams of 5-10 and each crew works on a few bikes at a time. They grab a bike box and start building anything form tiny pixie bikes to full-on mountain bikes with front and rear suspension. Some of the more popular and interesting bikes are these cruiser bikes that have stunning lines and paint jobs to match. There’s a few bmx and dirt jump bikes as well that would make any kid up to 18 years old very happy.
Who do the bikes go to?
Every year, dozens of local charities, mostly from Santa Clara County apply to receive bikes for deserving, under-priveledged kids. The majority of these kids do not have the means to purchase a new bike and are often left without one or left to ride an ill-fitting hand-me-down bike. This year, there were applications for over 5000 bikes so the group had to select and dole out their 2400 brand new bikes. This year, over 20 charities were the recipients of these bikes. The bikes are a mix styles and sizes and some of them are quite impressive and would retail for $500 at a bike shop.
The impressive thing about this event and organization is it continues to thrive and grow through the bad economy. As the need arises for free bikes for needy kids during the holidays, the community seems to respond with generosity with their time and money.
TurningWheels for Kids is truly a gem in the community and is a great example for other cities and the rest of the world. If we can teach every kid to love the bicycle and the joy of riding, we would all be better off.
About TurningWheels for Kids
In 2003, Susan Runsvold set out to ensure that no child would have to experience a Christmas without any cool and exciting gifts, an experience that she feared herself when she was young. Since then, her vision has expanded, as she discovered that bicycles–one of the coolest gifts a child can receive for Christmas–can have a more profound impact on children’s lives than she first imagined.
Her original vision was to buy bikes at Christmas and give them to underprivileged children, children she believed might otherwise not receive any present from Santa. She began what she hoped would be a tradition of collecting money from her friends and colleagues to purchase as many bikes as possible for holiday distribution. The first year, she bought 12 brand-new bikes and gave them to children. She soon realized that beyond the immediate thrill of Christmas morning, these bikes bring children independence, confidence, a fun way to exercise, and a sense of adventure that nothing else could quite match.
But the story doesn’t end there. In 2005, Susan asked an amazing group of volunteers—many of whom now comprise the TurningWheels for Kids board—to help flesh out her dream. With a resounding “Yes!” from the team, TurningWheels For Kids (TWFK) was born. The unbelievable success of this group has resulted in more than 13,000 bikes being built and given to local children.
And as with all good ideas, the mission has grown. Today, TurningWheels For Kids distributes bikes not only at the holiday but also year round through a number of partnerships focused on preventing childhood obesity and supporting low-income families.
TurningWheels For Kids has partnered with the Pediatric Healthy Lifestyle Center of the Valley, part of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, and Bay Area Women’s Sport’s Initiative (BAWSI), to encourage outdoor activity—like riding a bike to school or to hang out with friends—as a way to improve children’s health and well-being.
“We must recognize that the epidemic of childhood obesity is connected to sedentary pastimes: TVs, computers, texting, and video games,” says Sue. “We must hit a reset button and bring children back outdoors to experience the fun we all remember from our childhoods. We must give children the opportunity to share bike riding as an important childhood rite of passage. And as the number one gift requested by these children, bikes can bring kids back outdoors to active play—exactly what a child should be doing.”
Every person on the Board of TWFK gives tirelessly and with great generosity, both time and money, to advance this program. Raleigh America works with us, right at our side, to help us provide great, sturdy, safe bikes and helmets to children who would otherwise not have their own bike. Raleigh is an amazing and generous company. The community, both business and individuals, come out, year after year, to support our efforts and make dreams come true. Team San Jose has generously donated the South Hall for our Big Bike Build year after year. The list goes on and on—please see our Partners page.
Help us help local children. Make a donation today to our Buck for a Bike campaign, or submit your email address to Sue@turningwheelsforkids.org so you can stay on top of our volunteer opportunities and activities.
Why a Bike Matters!
Who doesn’t remember their first bike? What’s the magic? Why the intense universal desire to have your own bike? Is it the world beyond your own front yard discovered, or perhaps that you get to go really fast, all on your own, be in control? A bike is a rite of passage for a child, and beyond the fun, the smile and the wind in your hair, a bike provides many things:
- Teaches balance, strength and coordination.
- Encourages independence with responsibility.
- Provides a practical means of transportation.
- Benefits health at a time when juvenile Type II Diabetes and obesity are now epidemic
- Boosts self esteem through a sense of skill mastery.
- Increases socialization with others who share a love for the outdoors and provides opportunities for learning about nature.
- Stirs the imagination.
- Puts high risk children in contact with other children engaged in productive, healthy activities.
For more information and to make donations go to: http://turningwheelsforkids.org/