A tiny, pink bicycle stands outside a warehouse door while two adult bikes wait in a nearby bike rack. If it wasn’t a 90-something-degree day in Texas, you’d swear Santa’s elves were hard at work inside.
Bikes for Tykes began in the 1990s when a small group of cyclists were “tricked into finding bikes for Christmas,” says Alan Arabian, president of the organization. They thought they were competing against another group. There was no competition. But they enjoyed it so much they kept doing it.
Today, Bikes for Tykes’ eight volunteers repair and distribute more than 1,000 bicycles each year.
They closed shop for a while, Arabian says, after the organization’s founder was killed in a bicycle accident. Pete Cox revitalized the group in 2001, and it began using a portion of the Bedroom Shop in Arlington as a workshop. The group now operates out of Richland Hills.
“The landlord here is bicycle enthusiast,” Arabian says. “We pay a stipend … probably a quarter of what he could get.”
Bikes for Tykes, which has also been known to assemble dollhouses and other items, is also supported by annual donations from the Arlington Kiwanis Club, Arlington Gold and Silver, and gifts from a few private citizens. Arabian says the money helps buy “things that we need to fix up a bike that we cannot cannibalize off another bike.”
While the organization serves the entire Metroplex, the majority of those served are from Arlington and east Fort Worth. Most of the bikes are distributed through charities like Mission Arlington, Urban Ministries, Catholic Charities, or the Presbyterian Night Shelter, because they have contact with those in need. Arabian estimates about a third of the bikes go to the homeless or those transitioning back into the community.
“When the guys come in here from the halfway house, and they’re just hot, and [we] give them a bottle of water and help get them on a bicycle … they’re thankful,” he says. “And that makes us feel good.”
Jarrett Michel, 78, has been a Bikes for Tykes volunteer for about six years. “The kids are so happy to get a bike to ride with their friends,” he says. And “the adults are very much in need of them. Many of them have to walk to work or wherever they are going.”
Sometimes, University of Texas at Arlington students will get bikes, Arabian says. Police departments come to the organization when they find people needing transportation, and they also bring bikes that they find. The organizations that are served also supply bicycles in need of repair. And various bicycle shops serve as donation points.
Arabian became involved with Bikes for Tykes about six years ago after he retired. He says a few “very dependable” neighborhood kids also help out during the summer months. “Some of them just know what a bike needs,” he says. However, Bikes for Tykes does have a 10-step checklist covering things like tires, chain, brakes, and cleaning. But the organization members do not paint the bikes.
“Quite frankly, I’m not a painter,” he says with a laugh. “I’m a mechanic. We’re here to get functional transportation out. We have no doubts that [some] people are coming here, getting a bike, and stopping off at the nearest pawn shop. We can’t let that stand in the way of serving the community.”
And that service is constant.
”We are having trouble keeping up,” Arabian says. “We need bicycle donations. They don’t need to be pretty. They don’t need to work. But we especially need adult-sized bicycles.”
Bikes for Tykes, located at 7163 Latham Drive in Richland Hills, is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. For more: (817) 446-7878.