FOUNTAIN HILLS, AZ — Since 2019, the hustle and bustle inside the halls of a former Fountain Hills middle school helped to transform a modest operation aimed at getting underprivileged kids across the Valley bicycles, into a substantial headquarters of giving.
“We’re not giving kids a bike, we’re giving them a ticket to discovery and to adventure,” said Bob Mandel.
Bob Mandel founded Bob’s Free Bikes five years ago hoping to give away a few bikes a year.
“It started in my garage, not the smartest idea I’ve ever had, when we moved in here to the school, we thought we were going to take one room, which became two rooms while we were moving in, now we have 10,” said Bob as he provided ABC15 a tour.
Hundreds of bikes big and small now fill old classrooms. One room is entirely for parts while at least three others are used for bike repair and dismantling. But it’s the volunteers of retirees that make the wheels of this operation continue to turn.
“We all remember our first bike and when these kids don’t have anything and you give them the bike, the look on their face makes it all worthwhile,” said Brian Martin while removing brakes from a bike. “This is great for part of retirement, and I get to give back to the community and learn a new skill I didn’t have before.”
Those getting their hands dirty include former engineers, lawyers, and graphic artists giving up part of their golden years to deliver thousands of bikes in working order to kids who deserve them.
“These guys are magic, they work like crazy, but we also spend a lot of time laughing at ourselves and laughing at each other and trying to keep up with demand,” said Bob.
Bikes are donated by the community, fixed up, and given away through organizations all across the Valley, from foster homes to Title 1 schools. However, not all the bikes make the cut due to damage or rust, but they certainly don’t go to waste after being stripped of usable parts.
“The scrap like the frame goes to a guy who picks it up, takes it to a recycler and he’s involved with the Boy Scouts so the money from the metal goes to the troops,” said another volunteer named Walter.
What begins as an unwanted bike, truly turns into an unforgettable gift the children they’ve impacted couldn’t be more grateful to receive.
Giving away so many bikes still does have some costs. Bob says what they really need are more volunteers to join in on the fun as well as financial contributions to keep the giving in full gear. If you’d like to get involved, you can visit their website.