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Thursday, 30 July 2015 13:27

Bike Elves of Beloit repair and donate bikes

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Matthew Beach, 6, of Freeport, Illinois, enjoys the bicycle that he received for his birthday as part of the Bike Elves program. Beach was the 1,500th person to receive a bicycle from the program, which was started about three years ago by Anne and Brian Reece of Beloit, who are pictured above watching Matthew try out his bike. Matthew Beach, 6, of Freeport, Illinois, enjoys the bicycle that he received for his birthday as part of the Bike Elves program. Beach was the 1,500th person to receive a bicycle from the program, which was started about three years ago by Anne and Brian Reece of Beloit, who are pictured above watching Matthew try out his bike. Dennis Hines/staff

STATELINE NEWS -- Matthew Beach enthusiastically pedaled the bicycle he had just received down the driveway.

"It feels great," Beach said as he  test drove his early sixth birthday present.

Beach was the 1,500th person to receive a bicycle from the Bike Elves, who repair and rebuild bicycles, then give them to area children and adults.

Laura Beach, Matthew’s mother, said she learned about the Bike Elves through a friend.

"I’ve been searching and searching for a bike," Laura Beach said. "I think I posted (that I was looking for a bicycle) on Facebook about a month ago."

Brian and Anne Reece of Beloit started the Bike Elves about three years ago to help provide bicycles for people in Janesville and Beloit who are in need of one. The couple operate the program out of their Beloit home.

The Reeces were inspired to start the Bike Elves program after Brian was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Brian said working on the bikes has helped to keep his mind active since having to retire.

"The biggest thing that bothered me about being out of work is I didn’t have anything to do because I had it in my head that I wasn’t going to think about retirement until I was 67, and all of a sudden it was taken away from me," Brian said. "Now, I have a chance to use my hands. I build bikes out of nothing. My knowledge of bicycles has increased tremendously. It’s keeping me healthy. (Alzheimer’s) has got to run to catch me. I’m not going to stop and let it catch me."

Brian said he doesn’t really worry about whether or not a family can afford a bike.

"I just go under the assumption that I’m going to help get the kids out of the house and playing in the yard where they should be and get them away from the video games and give them some freedom," he said.

Anne said some people will bring in their bicycle and trade it in for another bike.

"We don’t have set guidelines. We are not a (nonprofit) agency. This is just something we’re choosing to do  ... " Anne said. "They might have a 16-inch bike and they need a 20-inch bike or they got a really nice 12-inch bike and they need a 16-inch bike. We are more than happy to help them trade up."

Anne said they have donated bikes to people from throughout the area.

"Bikes have gone to Rockford," she said. "Some people come and get them. Some people we meet part way. We go far and wide."

Most of the bikes that the Reeces receive are donated. The couple has a "bike tree" in their yard where people can drop off a bike. Bicycles also can be dropped off at Excel Auto Body in Janesville, Beloit Bicycle Co. and the Rockford Bicycle Co.

"Some people find bikes, fix them up and bring them to us," Anne said. "We’ll get up in the morning and there will be bikes under the tree. We’ll go away and come back, and there will be bikes or parts under the tree. It’s pretty awesome."

The bicycles are stored in the Reeces’ basement, then Brian takes them to his small shop where they are repaired. Brian said the amount of time it takes him to repair a bike varies.

"There’s some bikes that take maybe a half hour to go through, then there’s the bikes that I call ‘the bikes from hell,’ and it turns into an all-day project," Brian said. "Then there’s some I take off the rack, put them away for a while because I’m tired of fighting with them. Some bikes I can save, some are beyond hope."

Brian said he also provides parts to people who are looking to repair their own bikes.

"If someone needs a part, they’ll ask me how much it will cost. I’ll say, ‘If I have it, it’s yours,’" Brian said. "There’s a gentlemen across town who repairs bicycles for his own neighborhood and he needed some parts and he was willing to pay for them, and I said, ‘They’re yours.’ He comes back from time to time, and I’ll let him have what he needs."

Anne said one of the items that they are in need of the most is training wheels.

"We have all kinds of 12-inch bikes and no training wheels that will fit them, and it’s kind of a dilemma because if somebody is asking for a bike, they probably don’t have the money to buy training wheels either, and we would really like to be able to give (the bikes) away with training wheels," Anne said. "Almost every boy’s bike that comes in needs tires and tubes."

The Reeces also have provided bicycles for local events, including a recent bike rodeo hosted by the Janesville Police Department. Brian and his brother-in-law, Dave Kelly, assembled 24 bikes for the event. About 50 bicycles were given away during the bike rodeo.

Anne said she even delivered a bicycle to a child who did not receive one during the event.

"I went to his door and said, ‘You wouldn’t happen to be looking for a bike, would you?’ and his face just lit up," Anne said. "That was pretty exciting. Kids who won bikes at the rodeo have donated their old bikes to us. It was a really nice experience."

Anne said she appreciates the support that the program has received from local businesses and police departments. She said the Beloit Bicycle Co. allows them to purchase bike parts at cost.

The couple’s grandchildren also help repair bikes.

"They’re getting drafted now. We have one granddaughter, Destiny, who is 15, and she is an excellent tire changer, and her sister, Emily, who is going to be 13, is learning, too," Anne said. "They’re excited to help, and they want to learn, too."

"If anything, I’m teaching them how to use tools and think things through," Brian added. "I’ve always been a big advocate that if you can picture it in your mind, you can do it. I ask kids what’s the greatest nation in the world. Your imagination --  that’s the greatest nation. If you can imagine something, you can do it."

Besides the Bike Elves program, the Reeces also are involved with an early-onset Alzheimer’s disease support group in Chicago. The couple is participating in a documentary called "Without Warning," which focuses on early-onset Alzheimer’s.

"(The documentary) is definitely something that’s important to us," Anne said. "We think the story needs to be out there. When Brian was first diagnosed, he wasn’t real excited about telling people. The more we talked about it, we felt we were given the opportunity to raise awareness for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

"We used to keep a count of the number of bikes," Anne said. "About a year and a half ago, we switched that from bikes to smiles. We say we’re not giving away bikes, we’re giving away smiles."

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