At first glance, the 600-square-foot Bicycle Thrift Shop looks like a cubbyhole for discarded jerseys, muddied cleats and bikes that have been down a few trails. But a closer look reveals a gold mine for cycling enthusiasts on a budget who are looking to gear up. The money raised from sales supports Trips for Kids WNC, a nonprofit that helps kids get outdoors.
“A lot of these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to ride bikes in their community or places like DuPont [State Recreational Forest],” says Laura Rice, a board member and trek leader for Trips for Kids WNC. The regional group is part of an international nonprofit based in Marin County, Calif. “It’s a great way to get them outside and familiar with riding bikes.”
The local branch needed to raise money and awareness for its cause, so two years ago avid cyclist Stephen Janes opened the Bicycle Thrift Shop just outside Biltmore Village to fund programming, transportation and bikes for those who would not normally have access to cycling.
“It’s like our ongoing fundraiser,” says Janes, who is a co-founder and board member of Trips for Kids WNC.
After spending years in the child mental health field, Janes found himself at a crossroads, he explains. In November 2010, he read an article about Trips for Kids in a cycling magazine and decided that developing the program in WNC was the right path.
Trips for Kids WNC is the only nonprofit in the area that exclusively offers mountain biking trips for children. The organization gets about 500 kids per year out onto the trails by partnering with local schools and youth organizations. Through private donations and grants, it provides the bikes, transportation and three volunteers for groups of up to 10 kids per adventure. Participating kids learn about safety, bike skills and trail etiquette. Along the way, they build confidence and an appreciation for the natural world, Janes says.
He recalls one of the kids saying on a trip last summer, “It smells like trees!”
Rice, who helps organize trips in Henderson County, says she had two siblings on a trip last summer who were amazed that they could ride their bikes from Jackson Park to Patton Park.
Trips for Kids WNC partners with Henderson County Parks and Recreation to provide four- to six-week skills and riding clinics for local children for free. The sessions run during the summer, and participants must be in third, fourth or fifth grade.
The Bicycle Thrift Shop, meanwhile, gives Janes a chance to focus on leading trips rather than spending time on fundraising. From bikes to tubes to jerseys, everything in the shop is donated. This ensures that equipment is affordable, which in turn helps more people gain access to cycling, he explains. If he hears of a family in need, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Janes to give them a bike for free.
It’s his love of cycling and the outdoors that drives his work. Rather than focusing on the immediate results of leading mountain biking trips, Janes said he trusts that the program will provide a positive future for the kids.
“That 25-year-old going through a tough time will look back to when he rode through the woods out of his comfort zone and will have confidence, respect for himself and know that he can succeed,” Janes says. “That’s why I’m doing it — to plan for the future for kids.”
Janes said he is always open to talking with other programs and schools about partnering with Trips for Kids WNC. Eventually he hopes to grow the organization, but at the moment he is focusing on maintaining good quality programming.
“For now we’ll keep doing what we’re doing,” Janes says. “It’s working, and kids are getting on bikes.”
The Bicycle Thrift Shop is open year-round, Mondays and Wednesdays, 2-5 p.m. For more information about the shop and Trips for Kids WNC, visit tripsforkidswnc.com.