Group gives old bicycles a new spin

ADVANCED FOR RELEASE MONDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2013 Al Nelson tests the operation of a refurbished bicycle while working with other volunteers in Cold Spring, Minn., Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/The St. Cloud Times, Dave Schwarz)

COLD SPRING, Minn. (AP) — During November, you can find a group of Cold Spring-area men working four days a week for a common cause inside the old opera house.


Together, Al Nelson, Ray Schwagel, Mike Weber, Tim Stein, Ted Krebsbach, Jack Bell, Dave Mehr, Tom Bell, Tom Manuel and Chuck Kuebelbeck will fix more than 100 bikes, which will go to children in need just in time for the holidays. Any bikes that can’t be used whole are stripped for parts for other bikes.

The program has been going on for more than 20 years.

Granite Community Bank, formerly First National Bank of Cold Spring, is a sponsor, and it offered the seed money for the program, said Dan Stiel, vice president at the bank. The bank also can help with funds if there are shortfalls for parts or tires. The Cold Spring Co-Op acts as the location for the men to fix up and store the bikes.

The Salvation Army arranges to give them away. It works through the food shelf to find clients in the area, said Karla Rolfzen, a social services program coordinator with The Salvation Army in St. Cloud. The program has worked this way for several years.

The program is open to anybody in need. Last year, they gave away about 100 bikes, and she expected about the same amount this year. Families are given a date and time to check out the bikes, so they can pick a size that fits their child. They also have adult-sized bikes because they serve babies to 16-year-olds.

The long-standing program is now fairly self-sufficient. In the spring, organizers will have a sale to get rid of the bikes they couldn’t donate. They use that money to buy parts for the next year’s crop of donations. They’ve even used revenues to buy several bike stands over the years, which can hold the bikes while they work and so they don’t have to work on the floor.

The project started in the Rocori school district. They had students making toys in shop class, which seemed to work pretty well. They intended to have them fix bikes, but that can be a little involved. Some chemicals are used, and it can be messy.

The group also gives bikes to churches in the area if they ask for them.

“Our base is broadening itself,” said Krebsbach, who’s been working with the program for about 16 years.

Krebsbach said the men who volunteer do it as much for the social aspect as the good it does for the community.

“I kind of like to tinker and monkey,” he told the St. Cloud Times. “The time of the year isn’t great to golf or fish.” So instead, he works on bikes. And he gets a little messy.

“I always ask my wife which pair of jeans she wants me to ruin,” he said.

There’s also a lot of elbow grease in the cleaning.

“We do what needs to be done,” Krebsbach said. “A lot of our work is done with toothbrushes.”

He said it’s gotten to the point where the community expects the program. People drop off bikes at the opera house throughout November. One bike even showed up at Krebsbach’s house, without any explanation.

The group, which works four mornings for four days a week, tries to go out for lunch together. The time together lets them catch up on news.

“And we give the Vikings hell for a couple of days,” Krebsbach added.

Mehr is a newbie to the group who found out about the program through the newspaper.

“I’m just trying to be helpful,” he said, as he cleaned a children’s bike.

He hadn’t volunteered a lot, but this came up at the right time of year.

“It’s a great bunch of guys.”

Weber has been coming for six or seven years.

“I always fixed up bikes growing up,” he said. “And it’s a really good cause.”

They never get to see directly how kids react when they receive a bike, “but word gets back,” he said.

Chuck Kuebelbeck had heard about the program from Krebsbach, so when he retired, he thought it was a good thing to do.

“It’s nice for the kids, it’s nice for the community,” he said. “It’s a nice way to volunteer my time.”

He hadn’t really fixed bikes before, but he learned on the job from other guys.

“It’s a lot of fun, a lot of camaraderie,” he said.

Tom Bell started after he retired from DeZurik.

“Fifteen years later, here I am,” he said —well, at least more than 10 years, he corrected himself. He was asked to help by his cousin Jack Bell.

“I’ve worked on bikes since I (was) a kid,” he said. “It’s something to do in the winter months.”

“And I enjoy the company ... sometimes,” he joked.

Stein started after his wife heard about it from Jack Bell’s wife. But did he know bike repair?

“I had four boys at home ... so I knew how to fix bikes,” he said. “You can ask anybody for help ... and every so often we get coffee and cookies.”