New life for old bikes in the Ottawa Valley

A cycling group in the Ottawa Valley is collecting donated bicycles, repairing them and giving them away to people who can't find or afford a new bike.

Volunteers launch free bike bank to get more people out on 2 wheels

A cycling group in the Ottawa Valley is taking donations of surplus bikes, tuning them up and offering them to people who can't find or afford one. (Shutterstock/Popova Valeriya)

If you've been thinking about buying a new bike this spring, you're far from alone.

The pandemic has spawned a boom in bicycle sales, but that demand has severely curtailed supply and driven up prices, leaving many would-be bike buyers spinning their wheels.

In response, a group of cyclists in the Ottawa Valley has set up a free bike bank, similar to a food bank.

"A lot of people can't afford bikes, and we want to get bikes into the hands of people who want them and need them," Ish Theilheimer, a member of the Ottawa Valley Cycling and Active Transportation Alliance (OVCATA), told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"In … Renfrew County, we don't have public transportation at all. People who need to get to work, to school or shopping, if they don't have a car, they're really in bad shape," he said.

Flooded with offers

OVCATA launched the initiative April 6, putting out the call for surplus bikes. Theilheimer said the response has been tremendous.

"We've been flooded with offers of bikes," Theilheimer said. "Some bikes coming in are in better shape than others, but we'll take them all."

Several of the group's handier volunteers are skilled at bringing old bikes back to life, Theilheimer said.

"We're doing some restoration. We don't mind picking up the odd bike part."

Ish Theilheimer, left, and Kathy Eisner Theilheimer ride the Carratera Centrale in Cuba. (Supplied by Ish Theilheimer)

He doesn't just talk the talk. The Golden Lake, Ont., resident has been cycling for more than half a century, and still loves to travel by two wheels with his wife Kathy.

"I've travelled all over the world with bikes. It's a wonderful way to meet people, to see the world, to have experiences you couldn't possibly have otherwise. And of course, to stay healthy and happy."

If you live in the Ottawa Valley and need a bike, or want to donate one that's been gathering dust in your garage or basement, you can email OVCATA or check out the group's website.

"If they need a bike, they should just contact us and we'll get a volunteer to get a bike to them," Theilheimer said. "Bikes are really, really important. They're a way to get to work, to school, a way to feel healthy and feel good about yourself. And it's good for the environment."

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning