Charlie’s FreeWheels is a non-profit organization that teaches young people about bike mechanics through a free Build-a-Bike program for youth between the ages of 12-25. In addition to teaching youth about building bikes, Charlie’s also provides young people with opportunities to gain confidence riding their bikes through weekly rides and road safety classes.
All Images courtesy of Charlie's Freewheels
In winter 2017 Charlie’s hosted a series of Winter Field Trips in an effort to introduce young people to different approaches to cycling. These field trips included a trip to Schön Studio to learn about frame building, Fat Biking with Evergreen Bike Works in the Don Valley, a trip to Joy Ride 150, and to the Milton Velodrome to watch the provincial races.
This is the first in a two part series on what participants Alma and Betty took away from their experiences participating in this program.
- Alix Aylen, Charlie's Freewheels Interim Executive Director
Alma, 16, participated in the Girls & Trans Build-a-Bike program at Charlie’s in 2015. She built up an awesome purple cruiser that she rides everywhere in the summer time to photograph the city and get outside.
What are four words to describe a Winter 2017 Charlie's Freewheels Trip?
Breaking your comfort zone.
For the two February weekends that I spent with the Charlie’s staff, both the Don Valley Fat Bike Trip and the Joyride Indoor Bike Park had one thing in common: trying something completely new.
Don't get me wrong, I love riding my bike around the city (when it's not snowing), and I did that during their Summer rides. I had the time of my life then! But bikes with 4 inch wheels? Riding in the snow? Biking without sitting on your bike? Ramps?! I am proud to say that I answered all of the questions that I had, and these winter experiences were the answer. And now, I have learned how to use 2 new types of bikes!
Travelling with the group to the Brickworks where we met our instructors Alex and John was the day we all went around the Don Valley using Fat Bikes. The weather was warm and we got bikes with these huge wheels- 4 inches wide! At first, I was a little nervous to ride them - the gears on the bikes were totally different from my regular cruiser, but as soon as I learned what to do, I felt really comfortable riding on the fat bike. Although my butt hurt and the back of my clothes were wet because of all the biking through the snow and slush, I loved fat biking! I loved going through the snow and those big wheels made me feel super powerful. The weather was nice enough that we only needed to wear our sweaters. No heavy, bulky winter coats were stopping me from my fun! And like always, Charlie’s staff members don’t care how fast or how slow you bike, they only care that we have a great time. So taking their words into consideration, I had the best and first fat bike ride of my life, taking my time, crushing the snow, slush and ice, and enjoying the views of the Don Valley around me.
Compared to the Don Valley Fat Biking trip, this one gave me a new experience I will never forget. I do not know how to do simple tricks on my bike. Like riding with no hands, and standing while riding my bike. I am that girl who sits on her comfy cruiser seat and happily cruises away. But for this trip, when I saw the bikes at the park, the seats were stooped so low, they were so hard and it was so painful to sit and ride. So when Alex (person who helped us with our Fat bikes, came back the following week to assist us at Joyride) told the group that we have to ride in the bike park by standing on our bikes, I was terrified. I’m telling you, every single person who came on that trip either learned super quickly and/or mastered the art of standing while riding. I swear I thought I was going to hate this trip, because a girl like me couldn’t just stand up on her bike out of nowhere and start going around the ramps. So my savior of that day, Charlie’s staff Alix, taught me how to stand while riding. Yes! I did it; I now know how to ride on a bike while standing up! Although I wasn’t moving quickly to the Intermediate and Advanced level ramps, I was enjoying the curves and the bumps and the ramps in the Beginner section. To me, it felt like I was flying and that these beginner ramps were the most thrilling things ever and this experience at the Joyride Indoor Bike Park is definitely an experience that I won’t forget.
All in all, huge shoutouts to Charlie’s Freewheels Staff for having these free trips that I loved. I dragged my little brother too, who also built a bike at Charlie’s, and he loved them as well! 🙂 But huge thanks to Charlie’s staff because they’re always there, letting me explore and take my time while learning new things, whether it be something small like shifting the gears on a fat bike or it’s learning how to ride a bike while standing. The two Saturday’s that I spent with the Charlie’s crew were definitely two Saturday’s that I will always cherish and remember.
Registration for Charlie’s Spring Build-a-Bike Programs is now open. Sign up today!