Bicycle chains, pedals and parts were scattered around the floor as Steve Cash and Mike Gates rotated around the Cobleskill Youth Center, helping a couple dozen kids fix up an assortment of old bikes.
Called Free Ride, Cash organized the bike-recycling program about six weeks ago, modeled on a similar program he worked on two years ago in Missoula, Mont., while he was fighting wildfires for the U.S. Forest Service.
The idea is to make use of various old parts and donated bicycles to give “anyone of any age” the chance to get a free bike after fixing it up, Cash said.
Most participants have been elementary school age through high school, but Cash said some students from SUNY-Cobleskill have worked on bikes during the 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday programs at the Cobleskill Youth Center in Golding Park, just off North Grand Street.
Oneonta-based DJ Andris Balins was providing a background beat of funk and hip-hop rhythms to work by last week.
Like Gates and everyone else associated with Free Ride, Balins volunteers his time when he can.
And more volunteers is what the program needs, said village Mayor Mike Sellers, an enthusiastic supporter.
“I think it’s great,” Sellers said. “What we really need is volunteers to keep a program like this going, so it doesn’t die off,” Sellers said.
Although not the hard-core cyclist Cash is, Sellers, 23, often rides his bike the mile or so from his downtown apartment to the village offices.
Cash said anyone seeking to offer volunteer help for the Free Ride program, “even if they don’t know anything about bikes,” should call him at 296-8486.
When he brought his idea to SUNY-Cobleskill Human Resources Director R. Erik Seastedt, Cash said he discovered the college had a stash of a couple hundred donated bikes.
Free Ride is not officially connected with the village or the college, but it turned out both have been promoting greater use of pedal power.
College Provost Anne Myers “was already seeking bikes for the whole community,” said SUNY-Cobleskill spokeswoman Holly Cargill-Cramer.
The original idea was to have a free ride-and-leave program for people to use a bike, then leave it for others, but liability issues got in the way. As it turned out, a college employee had a recently deceased relative leave a lot of bicycles from his Middleburgh bike repair shop.
Some of the smaller bikes, popular with kids for trick riding and jumping, were given to Cash’s program, according to Cargill-Cramer.
Some of the adult bikes are being fixed up at the Youth Center, then sold at for about $10 or $20 to college students for local riding, she said.
Cash said Friday that arrangements were still being worked out with the college. Fixing bikes for the college students is “a trade-off for the donated bikes,” he said.
The community program at the village youth center, known informally as “Teen Town,” is free of charge, Cash said.
People who fix up a bike get to take it home, he said.
Cash expects to head back to Montana in May to work the fire-fighting season, so Gates hopes more volunteers will help keep the program running.
“It’s important from a lot of standpoints,” said Gates. “It’s good for the environment, and it helps people get out and meet other people,” he said.
“We want everybody in town to have a bike that works,” Gates said.
One believer, who at 12 years of age already is an experienced bike mechanic, is Joey Crawford.
“Ever since I was 3, I started riding two-wheelers,” Crawford said last week as he checked the brakes of a bike he was helping fix up for his 10-year-old friend Joe Fisher.
“He’s like the expert,” Fisher said of Joey.
“I started learning about [fixing] bikes at 5,” from his father, John Crawford, Joey said. “He taught me a lot.”
Some participants at the Free Ride workshop just needed some simple advice. Nadeem Yassin, 13, wanted to learn about cleaning the chain on his mother’s new 21-speed carbon fiber bike. Mom’s Specialized bike was being watched over by his sister Dahlia, 11. Nadeem also brought in his mother’s old 12-speed Fuji that he now rides.
Nadeem and Dahlia’s father, Said Yassin, hopes the interest in bicycles will spread to the long-proposed plan by the Cobleskill Rotary International Club to build a multipurpose recreational trail from Cobleskill to Richmondville.
Planning and fundraising for that trail continues and Said, a Rotary member, hopes it will become a reality over the next year or so.
“The county needs it so badly,” Yassin said.