Volunteer team builds bikes for Buchanan elementary students

BUCHANAN – New rides for students arrived in boxes at Ottawa Elementary School Saturday. After only a 20-minute assembly line comprised of volunteers from the local cycling community and a physical education instructor, the new fleet of Strider bikes was assembled and ready for students to try out in the coming weeks.

The bikes come from All Kids Bike, an organization dedicated to teaching every elementary student in America how to ride a bike. The All Kids Bike program equips schools with everything they need to teach children how to ride, including teacher training and certification, a structured 8-lesson curriculum, a fleet of Strider 14x Bikes, pedal conversion kits, fully adjustable helmets and a five-year support plan.

Jessica Leenhouts, physical education teacher for Moccasin and Ottawa Elementary schools, said she is excited to be able to put the Strider Bikes to use in a curriculum.

“[The bikes] came in on Monday [April 19],” she said. “We had a push to get them built so fast so that we could get kids out and going already.”

The Strider Bikes were delivered with some assembly required to the school. The bikes are built initially without pedals, so young learners can find how to balance and push the bike along with less fear of falling. The bikes also come with helmets.

To fund the program, Ottawa Elementary School began seeking donations in December of last year. Leenhouts partnered with Liz Martin, founder of Bike Buchanan, to help get further funds and to help assemble the bikes.

A grant from the Michigan Gateway Foundation funded the last half of the $5,000 needed to acquire the class set.

Saturday, Martin assembled a team of volunteers to meet at Ottawa Elementary to assemble the bicycles.

Lisa Altman, of St. Joseph, was one of the volunteers who helped build the bicycles on Saturday.

“We had an assembly line going. Some were opening boxes, some were breaking down the boxes, and others were putting the bikes together,” Altman said. “There was a video to watch to learn how to put them together.”

Altman joined the building group as a member of Bike Buchanan.

A cyclist and bike rider for more than 10 years, Altman said she began as a runner and now does triathlons. Her own athleticism is not the only reason she came out to help future cyclists — she is also a mother to two teenagers.

“Cycling and riding was a big part of their upbringing,” Altman said. “It’s something they can do when they’re a little bit older, and it’s nice to be able to have that [skill] for the younger kids.”

Martin worked with a smaller team of volunteers to attach the pedal kit to one of the Strider Bikes, to get a feel for what the next step in the build process will be when the students are more confident in their skills.

“I think it’s a really cool opportunity [for a school to have these bikes],” Martin said. “Some children may or may not have those resources to learn how to balance on these, which is an interesting thing to think about now. We just hop on our bikes and go, but learning how to do it for the first time has all sorts of challenges.”

Leenhouts said the Strider Bikes will be used both indoors and outdoors to begin with. The kit came with one adult-sized Strider Bike, so she can demonstrate to students each step of the riding process.

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