For even a devout kid, the more mystical aspects of the holiday season pale in comparative interest to what is inside that hastily wrapped package. Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus has come, for better or for worse, to mean presents. Thirty children in the local area had a slightly brighter holiday due to the generous program called Wheels of Kindness, also known as “Oh my gosh! Look! It’s a bike!”
Always under the radar and not seeking undue publicity (except for their mission), Joyce and Dennis Ferguson of J&D Bicycles have undertaken to provide as many bikes as possible to those who want, and more importantly, need a bike. Joyce, whose background is as a veterinary technician, bought her former father-in-law’s bike shop in Wapakoneta in the early ’90s. Weitz Bicycle Shop was strategically placed for 50 years one block from the courthouse in Wapakoneta. When miscreants would emerge from court, newly shorn of their driver’s licenses, they could troop right down the street and purchase transportation that did not require a license. Dennis, a carpenter by trade, has 25 years of maintenance experience, and married into the bike business.
In 2016, the couple decided to relocate. Realizing that a full 84 percent of riders prefer to ride on a bike path, they wanted to have their shop as close to a busy path as possible. When they found a property in Troy with the heavily used bike path running past the back door they knew they were home. Their shop at 500 N. Elm St (one side faces County Road 25-A) has become a hub for local bicyclists and some not so local. Riders from as far away as Texas and California have stopped by to explain they came this distance to ride our superb local path which has spurs to other paths. It offers dozens of miles of good riding and can take you to Cedarville, Yellow Springs, Xenia, and Cincinnati.
But back to the Wheels. Wheels of Kindness (quoting from the brochure) was born from a desire to provide transportation to those who are in need. One of its main goals is to provide bicycles to children who would otherwise not have one. While Dennis and Joyce donate all the parts and all the labor to get the bikes in tip-top shape (with an immutable focus on safety), they partner with local agencies such as the police department, civic groups, churches, and word of mouth to procure the bikes they ultimately give away. The fire department has provided helmets for years. J&D receive donated bikes only from the city of Troy, Miami County, the Bicycle Museum of New Bremen, and many generous individuals. Civic groups and churches provide them with names of individuals in need of a bike.
Children can receive a bike just for being children. As noted above, 30 bikes were given to children this month alone. Adults who request a bike, however, require a referral. There are many avenues for this including Partners in Hope, employers, and school officials. In one recent instance, a local employer approached Joyce and Dennis about an employee. This man wanted to work and had been making a trip across town on foot to be present every day. His employer knew a bike would make the trip much easier. The request was passed along, the man invited into the bike shop to be fitted for a bike, and left a happy man who now had to spend much less time and effort every day getting to his job. Children do not normally need to be fitted for their bikes because bike size is fairly reliably related to age. Joyce and Dennis spend much time discussing height, etc. with school principals making sure the bikes are correctly sized for the students. Not so adults. Any adult receiving a bike also receives a bike fitting.
Many benefits of the program are obvious. Many are less so, as is the follow-up on some donated bikes. By rehabbing bicycles that are gently used but in search of a new rider, Joyce and Dennis are not only providing a tremendous community service, they are also preventing many bikes from ending up in the landfill. Bikes that come to them that are beyond their useful life are collected by a recycling entity and every possible component gets a second chance in a new venue. Every other month, Dennis visits Buckeye House to make sure those donated bikes remain in good shape for the residents there.
While I was researching this article, I lamented the fact that it appeared I was a few weeks too late in getting the word out. Not so, Joyce assured me. J&D is always collecting bikes, distributing them as the need or occasion arises. While the Christmas season is always a high-traffic time, the giving goes on throughout the year. Bikes are raffled off at local versions of National Night Out and the need for adult bikes is always present.
For information on how to donate a bike, contact J&D Bicycles. To nominate an adult for a bike, please look at one of the agencies listed above. While both Joyce and Dennis are skilled bike mechanics, they ask that donated bikes be in reasonable shape. Do a good deed and clean out your garage at the same time. Donate a bike.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today.