BikeMobile Moves to Teach Kids About Bike Mechanics, Safety
Tommy Bensko believes in the power of alternative transportation. “Bicycling, walking, and public transportation are really good for the economy, and health, and the environment,” says the founder of Bay Area BikeMobile. More importantly, he adds “it’s good for the community.” But despite the obvious benefits, there are plenty of barriers to increased bike usage.
Having launched a free “bicycle library” in Knoxville, Tennessee, and run school-site bike safety trainings across the San Francisco Bay Area, Bensko knows all about the barriers that keep kids from riding. “It messes up my hair, it’s too far away, my parents won’t let me” and, what he hears most often: “my bike is broken.” Bensko’s business, Local Motion, aims to fix that last problem with Bay Area BikeMobile—a free, mobile, kid-friendly bike shop funded by MTC and BAAQMD’s Spare the Air Youth program.
Launched in March, 2014, the Bay Area BikeMobile travels to schools, community centers, and public events, carrying a supply of bike repair tools and parts. In addition to the two or three educators who will staff the specially-outfitted van, Bensko will hire local youth to work the events, which are about community-building as well as bike-building.
“The bread and butter of the visit is the action of bikes being repaired,”Bensko explains. But there’s also an educational component for young bike owners. “Whenever there’s time, and wherever there’s interest,” he says, “I always to try to get a wrench in their hand.” Through that process, kids learn about bike mechanics and bike safety. They also experience extra perks, like cool bike-themed photo ops, and a chance to play educational games with giant magnets that stick to the BikeMobile’s exterior. And kids aren’t the only one who flock to the events. Bensko says parents and teachers often show up to help, or to get help themselves.
The Bay Area BikeMobile is modeled on the successful Alameda County BikeMobile, winner of a 2012 Climate Initiative Innovation Grant from MTC. Alameda County BikeMobile increased bike ridership by 70 percent at participating schools. Bay Area BikeMobile aims to expand that success across the region, working with eleven partner organizations to plan visits in Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma counties. Visits can also be scheduled at bikemobile.org.