Larisa McGovern, Bike Newport educator and mechanic, sets up for the Holiday Bike Giveaway

By Bari Freeman, Executive Director of Bike Newport

2020 started like any other year, and then: BOOM! Covid-19 hit. The Bike Newport team didn’t see it coming, no one did, but the staff is responsive by nature — they shifted into gear and held the road because that’s how Bike Newport rolls. Bikes are a solution, and the organization knows how to get them to people who need them. The Bike Newport crew adjusted to the new reality and got to work. 

When the pandemic hit, it was clear that bikes would be part of the solution — for safe and accessible transportation, and for physical and mental health. COVID-safe equipment, information, and support were needed – quickly. 

The staff and volunteer mechanics set to work to increase the inventory of road-ready bikes, and opened an email request system. Additionally, the usual in-person assistance with DIY bike maintenance and repair became an online inventory of videos, supported by one-to-one FaceTime support when needed. Over the course of the next several  months, Bike Newport answered the simultaneous dearth and demand for bikes by distributing 300 restored bikes in the community.

Additionally, Bike Newport established a statewide survey to understand why, how and where more people were biking. The survey ultimately garnered 650 responses. The results are being used to make the case for increased separation of bikes from cars, to meet the needs of more people who want to ride. The executive summary is visible at bikenewportri.org/biking-during-coronavirus/.

Now, as we enter 2021, Bike Newport is making the case for long-term improvements, for roads that are safe for all road users, and to support biking as a primary transportation mode that also promises good physical health, mental health, environmental health, preservation, productivity, and a strong economy. 

Bike Newport is currently running its End-of-Year campaign which includes two donor matches totalling $35,000. The campaign kicked off with a virtual celebration of the annual Mingle & Jingle on Dec. 17th. Participants brought DIY cocktails and mocktails inspired by Kodi Keith of Yagi Noodles, enjoyed the premiere of Bike Newport’s new video, “Bike Happiness,” by Francesco Dragone, and heard the collaborative voices of special guests Lynn Ceglie, Vice Mayor of Newport; Colleen Jermain, Superintendent of Newport Public Schools; and Pauline Perkins Moye, Director of Social Services at Newport Housing Authority. 

That evening, Ms. Moye shared that she wished Bike Newport existed when she was a kid. Seeing kids riding around the North End neighborhoods, smiling and laughing and having a good time, “puts a smile on your face,” she said. 

Vice Mayor Ceglie shared her enthusiasm for Bike Newport’s programs at the Big Blue Bike Barn, where a vacant lot has been turned into a vibrant and active community space. “We need safe places for kids to have fun and I can’t think of a better project to meet that huge need,” she shared.

“Just giving the children in Newport a bicycle has opened up their world,” said Colleen Jermain, who told those gathered about Bike Newport’s partnership with Thompson Middle School students and programs to teach bike mechanic skills to city youth. 

Two days later was the annual Holiday Bike Giveaway. Every year, Bike Newport restores bicycles for the event at Pell Elementary School. This year, they prepared to match and distribute the bikes from warmth of their heated tent. The tent then was gone before the big day – but where there’s a will there’s a way! Staff and volunteers set up in the snow, with big red ribbons on the bikes, heaters blowing warm spots in the midst, and hot cocoa and coffee flowing thanks to Empire Tea and Coffee. 35 hearty kids got bikes that day, and the staff continues to meet people at the Bike Barn to distribute more. 

Do you know a child who needs a bike? Or have bikes to donate? Please email Allyson@bikenewportri.org.  The Holiday Bike Giveaway is made possible thanks to support from Rhode Island Commerce, the Rhode Island Foundation, Salve Regina University, Pedal Power, Lifespan, the Rotary Club of Newport, Empire Tea & Coffee, and a collection of awesome volunteers.

Anyone who wishes to support Bike Newport and its programs — or just keep up with general happenings — please visit bikenewportri.org.  Donations can be made at bikenewportri.org/donate. And the organization welcomes your feedback at info@bikenewportri.org.