Retired carpenter Doug Charlton is afraid to use his tablesaw lest any sawdust settle on the second-hand bikes he’s tuning up for another batch of riders.
His shiny dust-free bikes aren’t going to the highest bidder. Instead they are rolling out to would-be cyclists who can’t otherwise afford bikes of their own.
“I was not a bike mechanic two years ago,” he said, but you’d never be able to tell with the tires and tubes lining his walls, his collections of spare parts and his glee as he imagines handing his fixed-up bikes over to a new crop of recipients.
Gesturing to a gleaming pink children’s bike, he said: “Some little girl is just gonna go nuts.”
In the last two years he’s given 400 bikes new homes through his Bike It Forward program – which he said he hasn’t turned into a registered non-profit since he’d rather put all of his efforts into the bikes themselves.
When a couple from the Valley moved away and started The Polar Bike Project to take bikes to children in remote communities in Nunavut, Mr. Charlton made a donation and invited them to call if they needed help. When they did, he turned his workshop into a bike garage.
“I’ve become a little obsessed,” he said. “Every bike is so interesting.”
Sometimes Mr. Charlton comes home to find donated bikes waiting for him.
“People have been so generous,” he said.
While he appreciates donations of cash and bikes, he finds the majority of his bikes at the landfill.
“I just became a fixture at the dump,” he said. “It’s almost all scrounged. I scrounge as much as I can.”
Mr. Charlton brings the bicycles home and rebuilds them. He disassembles the bikes that aren’t salvageable and uses them for parts.
“These are all throwaway bikes that I’m willing to put money and time in to fix,” he said. “This has given me my new little mission in life.”
He gets a great deal of satisfaction from presenting others with bikes and seeing their faces light up with joy.
His phone is filled with photos from trips he’s taken all the way up to Nunavut and over to Calgary to distribute bikes to refugees and to the disadvantaged. Ecstatic riders beam in photo after photo as they hold onto their new treasures.
One girl was so unfamiliar with bicycles that Mr. Charlton said he had to show her how to push it so she could take it with her. Now he imagines that she’s “riding it like crazy.”
In one of the canvas tents that house his bikes, six have been separated from the rest and will soon be shared with refugees in Calgary.
Mr. Charlton distributes his bikes through a variety of groups that support those in need. Last year he began providing bikes to Family Dynamix for their clients and is especially interested in sharing bikes locally.
“I’ve biked forever, of course, like most fortunate people in Canada,” he said.
In his childhood, he began to associate biking with freedom and wants others to experience the same pedal-powered joy.
To donate lightly-used bikes, contact Mr. Charlton at 250-342-1343.
“As long as I can keep bikes coming in… I feel like I could do this forever,” he said. “It’s become a good retirement gig for me.”
Bike Swap returns on Saturday
The Columbia Valley Cycling Society Bike Swap will take place at the Columbia Valley Centre on Saturday, April 6th.
Those with bikes to sell can drop them off from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. There is a 15 per cent consignment fee. Proceeds will go to building and maintaining trails. The sale will run from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
If your bike doesn’t sell or if you pick up a new one and are ready to pass on your old one, Mr. Charlton is happy to take any Bike Swap leftovers and find them new homes.