London

London couple to give away hundreds of bikes - for free

For the last five years, Shayne and Monica Hodgson have been giving away hundreds of bikes for free to anyone who needs them and in doing so, are allowing hundreds of people to overcome the social imbalances of homelessness and poverty.

Shayne and Monica Hodgson have given away more than 750 bikes over the last five years

How free bicycles create social justice and inclusion 0:59

To most of us, a bicycle is a simple machine that gets us from point A to point B.

But when you live in poverty, are homeless, or face significant mental health problems, you see a bicycle differently. It's a tool for social equity.  

"They're looking at it as something that's going to take them to get something more, something better," said Monica Hodgson, who along with her husband Shayne, has been giving away bicycles for free by the hundreds to people in need.  

"It feels good because people walk away and you know their lives are improved immediately," she said. 

Humble beginnings

A woman thanks Monica Hodgson (out of frame) for the new bike, shortly after receiving it free of charge from Shayne Hodgson (right). (Colin Butler/CBC News)

It's why Shayne and Monica Hodgson have been organizing the Big Bike Giveaway for as long as they have.

What started years ago as Shayne fixing up old bikes and giving them away in the couple's Old South neighbourhood quickly grew until they started doing it on a larger scale. From 50 to 100, to eventually 200 and then more than 700 bikes, all given away for free. 

"It takes a lot of money and parts and a location to store them," said Monica Hodgson. 

Not to mention sponsors. The couple collects bikes a few times a year across the city and as far afield as Strathroy, St. Thomas and Sarnia.

Even London Walmart stores chip in, giving away the bikes they can't sell because of a flat tire or a broken chain. Shayne Hodgson will gladly take them off the company's hands, fix them up and give them away.

Wheels of Fortune

Shanyne and Monica Hodgson pose for a picture with one of the recipients of a free bike, Numas Medina, a London man who's been homeless for the last 10 years. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

While the generosity of the community certainly keeps the couple busy, it's the difference such a simple gift can make in the life of someone who doesn't have much. 

"There's so much a bike can give you," said Shayne Hodgson, who, besides being handy when it comes to bikes, also sees the world of possibility a bike can give someone who has limited opportunities because of challenges with health, poverty or even homelessness. 

'It will bring the city to them so they're not stuck in a certain area," he said. 

The fifth anniversary of the Big Bike Giveaway

What: Free bike giveaway, first-come first-served, bike must fit you

When: Sunday, September 30, registration opens at 9 a.m.

Where: Boyle Memorial Community Centre in Old East Village

Hodgson said a free bike means someone without a home has the means to collect scrap over a wider area and increase their income. They also have the flexibility to make it to a job or a doctor's appointment without relying on public transit. 

There are cynics among us who might ask, what if they just turn around and sell it? Shayne Hodgson chalks it up to the cost of doing business.

"At least they're going to have some money," he said. "These are things that do happen, but we'll keep moving forward and we'll keep on giving." 

To see why, all you have to do is see the grinning faces of the people who get the bikes. On Friday, the couple gave away five bikes to people living in poverty and invited CBC News to tag along. 

Among the recipients was Numas Medina, a London man who has been without a home for the past decade. 

"I feel great," he said. "I really needed one." 

For Medina, his new ride isn't just a luxury, it represents an expanded sense of freedom, which is an invaluable thing to have when living on the streets. 

"I can go farther," he said. "I can do more things. Go for a ride. I can exercise, enjoy the ride." 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article stated that the 5th Annual Big Bike Giveaway would happen on Sunday, September 16th. It is in fact happening on Sunday, September 30th.
    Sep 16, 2018 9:23 AM ET

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca