About 9,000 cyclists will flock to Tucson next week for El Tour de Tucson presented by Casino del Sol Resort.
Wheels for Kids president Rick Haupt, however, is more concerned about those who won’t be at Armory Park on Nov. 23.
By teaming up with El Tour, the nonprofit organization is collecting gently used bicycles and bike parts to refurbish and then donate to children in low-income families so they might have a chance to race next year.
“These kids all have problems in their lives and the last thing their parents are concerned with are bikes,” Haupt said. “We provide them the bikes and give them a whole new lease on life.”
Wheels for Kids has donated around 716 refurbished bicycles to those in need during its six years of existence. The organization partnered with El Tour this year; it will have a booth at this week’s Bike, Fitness and Health Expo and a table at the race for people to donate old and unused parts.
“I know everybody has bicycle parts and pieces and old bicycles in their house or garage, and it’s just been sitting there for years,” said Richard DeBernardis, El Tour’s president and race founder. “They can just take those bicycles and bicycle parts and give it to somebody that will make much use out of them.”
Wheels for Kids accepts used bicycles or bike parts of any kind, as long as they are in good condition. Haupt said the organization prefers full bicycles, if possible.
They won’t accept “junk parts” or broken or rusted frames for safety concerns.
Yet even when Wheels for Kids buys brand-new bikes through donation money, the volunteer mechanics will strip down and then rebuild the bikes to make sure they are completely safe. The new riders also receive free helmets.
The health benefits from riding a bike are obvious, DeBernardis said, but in his mind it’s important to just giving kids a chance to “get out there to be kids.”
Wheels for Kids doesn’t give the bikes directly to those in need but instead donates them to organizations such as Tu Nidito, El Grupo Youth Cycling and Sister Connection so they can select the best candidates.
While most of the focus at Armory Park will be on the current participants in El Tour de Tucson, Haupt said it’s important to think about the next generation of bikers, too.
“Let’s give the kids a chance to grow up and do what (El Tour riders) are doing,” Haupt said.