Suburban bike collections supply wheels during the shutdown

Bike shop inventory remains tight, but suburban bike collections during the shutdown continue to supply the disadvantaged in the Chicago area and overseas with used bikes.

October alone saw 10 collection/recycling events, yielding hundreds of used bikes for Chicago's nonprofit Working Bikes, whose trucks carried off bikes in working condition. Working Bikes sells and services refurbished and affordably priced used bikes, pumping funds raised into its nonprofit programs. Not your ordinary bike shop, Working Bikes distributed 1,900-plus used bikes locally and 8,300-plus to African and Latin American countries, according to its 2019 annual report.

Bike drives every October weekend

On Saturday, Oct. 3, Homewood-Flossmoor's "Recyclepalooza" helped fill the trucks, collecting 38 bikes plus numerous items - Legos, crayons, electronics, eyeglasses etc. - for other nonprofits. Carrie Malfeo, Flossmoor Green Commission vice-chair, reported Recyclepalooza has donated 160+ bikes to Working Bikes in the past four years.

That same day, Working Bikes netted 40 bikes at Lemont's annual "Household Recycling Event" per Elva Carusiello, Environmental Advisory Commission member.

Eagle Scout candidate Ryan Wiechman of Elmhurst collected used bikes for his Eagle Scout project. Courtesy of Glenn Wiechman

Also on Oct. 3, Ryan Wiechman, York High School freshman and Troop 117 Eagle Scout candidate in Elmhurst, blew away his goal of 60 bikes, collecting 73 that day for Working Bikes, plus 17 more afterward. Sounds like Eagle Scout material to me!

One week later, Glencoe's Sustainability Task Force hosted its second "Donate and Recycle Day." Per Megan Olson, village task force liaison, "Working Bikes collected 52 bikes, one bike cart and one tagalong bike."

Fifty bikes were also donated that day in Schaumburg.

Twelve Downers Grove Bicycle Club volunteers held its fifth collection for Working Bikes on Oct. 13. Colin Burke, Downers Grove Bicycle Club's advocacy coordinator, wasn't sure how the shutdown might impact their event but, "we are happy to report that we collected 37 bikes plus accessories." Burke estimated his club has given Working Bikes almost 300 bikes.

Doug Benker, Social Action Ministry member at St. Elizabeth Seton parish, Orland Hills, ran their third biannual drive Saturday, Oct. 17. The event, honoring a parishioner's deceased son, an avid biker, resulted in 35 bikes for Working Bikes.

Other October drives included Wilmette's "Make a Difference Day" Oct. 24, hosted by The Volunteer Center of NE Metro Chicago. This annual event accepts various recycled items for 15 participating nonprofit groups, including Working Bikes. Organizer Barbara Tubekis estimated 375 bikes collected for Working Bikes since 2007.

St. Elizabeth Seton bike drive volunteers in Orland Hills. Courtesy of Doug Benker

Working Bikes board President Phil Kaplan stated, "We are thrilled to get called back to this great event every year. These high-quality bikes are extremely valuable for our mission of empowering people locally and globally through bicycles."

Congregation Hakafa's social action group was scheduled to hold a used bike drive Oct. 25 at a Highland Park residence. Normally a spring drive at Glencoe Park District's Takiff Center, it was postponed and scaled back due to COVID. Working Bikes's Kaplan confirmed the congregation's collection of 180 bikes over the past three years.

Used bikes aren't just collected at scheduled events. Working Bikes website lists over 50 Chicago area locations where used bikes can be dropped off, including individuals like Gary Gilbert of Arlington Heights. Gilbert, an Arlington Heights Bike Club member and Working Bikes volunteer since 2003, served on its board from 2007-12.

2,000 bikes donated

How many has Gilbert collected?

"I wish I had kept count. Maybe 2,000. These days I collect about 100 bikes a year. Mostly people find me and either call or email me before dropping off a bike."

Bikes left at Arlington Heights Bike Club's annual spring bike swap have also been donated to Working Bikes for many years.

Gilbert stores donated bikes but doesn't do repairs.

"I can fit up to a dozen in my garage, plus I can keep some in the backyard. When my garage gets full, I call another Working Bikes volunteer who picks up the bikes with his truck."

On the other hand, Alan Kooperman, retired social studies and shop teacher at Highland Park High School, refurbishes the bikes he's collected from North Shore individuals and bike shops since 2005. He seeks out used bikes - "any size, any condition" - advertising his pickup service via, carting them home on the trailer he built in 2006.

Kooperman enjoys fixing bikes that are repairable and stripping parts from those beyond hope.

"My garage is full of parts. As long as my wife can get her car in the garage, I don't have a problem. Right now, I have 23 bikes in the garage, three more on the driveway and eight other bike skeletons," he said.

When he has a full load, he hauls them to West Town Bikes in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. Since 2005 Kooperman has collected and donated 1,200 bikes, including about 135 so far this year.

"I prefer to donate bikes to West Town Bikes," he said. "I know they will stay in Illinois, helping fill needs in the local Chicago community."

West Town Bikes is another multifaceted agency that refurbishes used bikes. These bikes support numerous community youth programs - bike clubs, after school programs, bike mechanic classes, Cyclocross - and keep Ciclo Urbano, its full-service bike shop, busy.

Alex Wilson, executive director and founder of West Town Bikes, said, "Donations have not slowed down this year despite the pandemic, with 500-plus bikes donated. What is affected by the shutdown is processing the bikes as we get them. Adult bike mechanic classes and youth programs have been canceled, so we don't have the same labor pool as pre-COVID to refurbish or scrap the bikes. We are flush with bikes right now."

Besides donations from bike shops, civic groups and individuals, West Town Bikes also accepts bikes from condo and property management associations when they do annual cleanouts of storage units. West Town Bikes does at least a dozen pickups from these groups annually.

Cycling shorts

The Sept. 15 virtual Illinois Bike Summit welcomed 230+ registrants from all across Illinois, one from Maine and two from Washington, D.C., per Ride Illinois Executive Director Dave Simmons. Tenth District U.S. congressman and cyclist, Brad Schneider, remarked to the group his amazement that the pandemic has brought out "bikes of all vintages out there ... it was really wonderful," also noting, "it has brought families more together."

Bill Nesper, League of American Bicyclists executive director, keynoted on the progress by advocacy groups at various levels, "all working to remove barriers to cycling."

In addition, Second District Illinois State Rep. Theresa Mah explained the passage of the 2018 "Dutch Reach" law in the General Assembly, including a related question added to the Illinois Rules of the Road driver test.

• Join the ride. Reach Ralph Banasiak at

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