In a city that's notorious for sprawl, driving might seem like the only option. Indeed, bike commuters are a rare sight on the potholed streets of Colorado Springs.
That may soon change with the opening of the Pedal Station, a downtown community bike center run by Kids on Bikes. You can probably guess this local nonprofit's mission by its name: Kids on Bikes works to equip, educate and empower kids to get off their butts and ride a bike. Start them young, the thinking goes, and bikes will become as commonplace as cars over the long run.
The Pedal Station, slated to open June 23 at 537 S. Tejon St., is first and foremost a central hub for bike donations. Volunteer bike mechanics can work their magic there, and people can learn bike maintenance or just get together with other enthusiasts.
Kids on Bikes Executive Director Nikki McComsey sees the new space as a way to pump up bike culture in the Springs.
"This city is very geographically spread out, so it's hard for adults — let alone kids — to get around by bike," she says. "What we do is very youth-focused, but this is going to be for everyone."
Since 2005, the organization's bike-shop partners have refurbished donated bikes that kids can get their hands on in different ways.
Say their family has means. They can purchase a bike knowing the proceeds will go toward helping other kids get one.
Say cost is a factor. Kids can earn a bike by participating in four- to six-week programs at their school or community centers that teach bike safety, maintenance and route-finding. Upon completion, kids get everything they need: a free bike, helmet, pump and lock.
Say a kid really has no cash and no nearby earn-a-bike program, but really wants to ride. The child can apply for a scholarship through Kids on Bikes.
"If they don't learn young, they'll never learn to ride," McComsey says. "If we get them on a bike, we're able to empower them for the rest of their lives. It's not just about the bike; it's about changing the future."
Over 10 years, Kids on Bikes has given out 1,276 bikes through the earn-a-bike program and taught bike safety to 4,038 kids.
Kids on Bikes' localized mission addresses a nationwide problem: Fewer Americans are biking than they once did.
According to the National Sporting Goods Association, the number of Americans who ride a bicycle at least six times a year declined from 43.1 million in 2000 to 35.6 million in 2014 — about a 17 percent drop — even as the population grew overall. And different demographics fled from biking at greater rates. For example, the number of kids 7 to 17 years old who rode at least six times a year plummeted by 21 percent over that period.
At the same time, childhood obesity has ballooned. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported that in 2012, the percentage of Colorado children who are obese had more than tripled since the 1970s. Black and Hispanic kids and kids who are poor and food insecure were found to be more at risk for obesity.
The Pedal Station will be the nonprofit's first centralized location. It's an ideal spot, McComsey says, because it's downtown, dense and accessible by trail. "That's just where the majority of people who bike tend to be," McComsey says.
"However," she adds, "the biggest need is actually in the southeast part of town, the northeast and east parts of town. There are so few bike shops there."
Ultimately, she hopes the Pedal Station will be a flagship that launches satellites into the community. In theory, that would take the form of bike libraries — repurposed shipping containers where donated bikes would reside, ready for the riding.
"Our goal with the bike library is to take a mini version of the Pedal Station and put it all over the place," McComsey says.
"What if there was one in every neighborhood?"