TAMPA — The brand new bicycle has flowers painted on its purple frame, a colorful basket, and a pink seat.
It’s a little girl’s dream bicycle.
And thanks to the annual onbikes Bike Build, it will be a dream come true.
On Dec. 1, more than 1,000 volunteers gathered on the floor of the Amalie Arena to hand-assemble 800 bicycles, the flowered purple girl’s bike among them. The Tampa-based nonprofit onbikes will donate the bikes to at-risk and foster children in Tampa Bay on Saturday (Dec. 8) at the eighth-annual Winter Wonder Ride at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
The build, however, may be as significant as Saturday’s festival.
“It’s a great event for Tampa,” said volunteer Dan Bavarro. His Tampa area restaurant chain, Bavarro’s, was an onbikes Bike Build sponsor. “This is what Tampa is really about, helping others in the area.”
Bavarro brought his five children and several of his staff to build bikes with him at Saturday’s event. Other bike-builders included families, sponsor company leaders and staff, bike groups, and charitable organizations. There were lots of children, some actively participating in the build and others running around the arena adding their laughter to the day’s energy.
“It’s meaningful for [the children] to think about what it’s like to not get a new bike for Christmas,” said Lauren Bowles, an onbikes board member who came to the event to volunteer with her family through her employer, event sponsor McKibbon Hospitality.
So many volunteers are anxious to participate in this popular event each year that the sign up list quickly reaches capacity. Volunteers are divided into three “shifts.” Boxes of unassembled bikes — purchased through Flying Fish Bicycles at manufacturer reduced costs — are stacked at one end of the arena. As each shift arrives, the boxes are moved to long tables lining the floor. Written directions are taped to the tables in intervals: unpack, install seat, install wheels, etc. Volunteers each take a job and the work begins.
As each bike is completed, it moves on to a professional quality control. Kid volunteers line up to ride the finished bike out of the arena to waiting trucks, ready for delivery to this year’s recipients, which include the Children’s Cancer Center, Metropolitan Ministries, the Tampa Police Department, and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I like giving other kids the opportunity to have a bike. I use my bike everyday.” said Kylee Kilburg, 12, as she twisted a pedal into place on a yellow and block mountain bike.
Kilburg echoes onbikes’ mission: giving every child the opportunity to have a bike, for their health and community sustainability – not to mention the sheer joy of owning their own set of wheels.
Onbikes co-founder and development director Julius Tobin values getting volunteers like Kilburg involved with onbikes.
“They’re putting their hands on an item that’s going to help someone else,” Tobin said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Onbikes began in 2011 when a group of friends put together a community bike ride ride to raise money for bikes for at-risk kids. The project has grown quickly – with this 2018 4th annual Bike Build, the organization will have donated approximately 6,000 bikes to at-risk children.
The Bike Build’s annual mission culminates with onbike’s Winter Wonder Ride at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
From Curtis Hixon Park, 5,000 enthusiastic bike riders, dressed in outrageous “Light It Up”-themed costumes, will pedal along Bayshore Boulevard before circling back to the park for food, drink, and a concert featuring DJ ZTrip, Tone Loc, and C&C Music Factory.
The event is a fundraiser but, like most onbikes endeavors, also celebrates a Tampa brand of fun and giving.
“It’s not about us,” Tobin said. “It’s about how we’re bringing the community together.”
Contact Emily L. Hay Hinsdale at [email protected]