“Community Bikes Project” Makes a Difference in Hamilton and Malawi

David Esber

What began with one Hamilton resident and a Colgate alumnus has become a not-for-profit organization with operations from the Madison County area to the Republic of Malawi in Africa.

Over the past few years, the Community Bikes Project, spearheaded by Chuck Fox ’70, has worked to provide a much-needed tool to those without access to other forms of transportation. The organization relies on donations of used bicycles, and work from volunteers from various individuals and organizations that spend time refurbishing the bikes that are to be redistributed.

Fox, of the Hamilton Theater, said he never expected the project to gain so much momentum or have as much of an impact in the lives of community members as it has.

“We [the Community Bikes Project] didn’t really start as a project, it just kind of started as an idea,” Fox said. “I bought a new bike for the first time in 30 years, and I said, ‘Hey, I have this old bike in my garage, and I wonder if anyone ever has a need for a bike that we aren’t using.'”

After some telephone calls, Fox said the project made its first few match-ups and has since increased in magnitude and impact in the surrounding areas thanks to the support of the local community.

“In a lot of cases, people had really good bikes that they had outgrown or for whatever reason just weren’t using anymore,” Fox said. “We found that people were very happy to donate their bikes and they liked the idea that somebody else who needed a bike would get to use it as opposed to having their bike sit in a garage for another ten years.”

In addition to collecting the bicycles, another major aspect of the project is the complete refurbishing of the donations. Despite being relatively unfamiliar with repairing bikes, Fox brought in various organizations from Colgate and the surrounding areas, including Theta Chi, Sister to Sister, the football and soccer teams and a group from the Center for Outreach and Volunteerism Education (COVE).

Senior Karl Fries began his involvement with the program during his sophomore year at Colgate as philanthropy chair of Theta Chi.

“In a casual conversation I mentioned that I was setting up a Mountain Biking curriculum for Outdoor Education,” Fries said. “At the time, the Community Bikes Program was just getting off the ground, and Chuck [Fox] asked if I wanted to get involved.”

Though Fries began by simply building awareness and recruiting organizations and volunteers to refurbish the donations, he now spends Wednesday evenings working with the project.

In addition to distributing the bikes through scheduled bike distributions, the program has also worked with Madison and Hamilton Central Schools to provide bikes for physical fitness and self-esteem promotion programs.

“A lot of the kids in Madison had, believe it or not, never ridden a bike,” Fox said. “It is sort of hard to imagine.”

The partnerships allowed for students to learn to repair bikes and provided schools with new resources.

“The schools have no budget for this kind of thing, [especially] now with [this] kind of economic situation. It’s a good experience for those students,” Fox said.

Jim Leach, a volunteer for the organization who got involved with the project from the outset, said that the project owes much of its success to the work of Fox.

“I think that one of the reasons it works is because of Chuck’s [Fox’s] energy,” Leach said. “The great thing about Chuck [Fox] is that he thinks big, but he thinks locally.”

In addition to the impressive local successes, including the distribution of almost 300 bikes on April 10 in Oneida, NY, Fox is also looking to send 200 new bikes to the Malawi Children’s Village in Africa. Despite the logistical issues associated with such an ambitious undertaking, Fries said that the positive aspects of the program are not limited to the recipients of the bikes, but extends to those working on the project as well.

“Community Bikes lends much to both Colgate and local communities. It not only is a program that provides local residents with both a healthy and a sustainable mode of transportation, but it also helps to connect students and Colgate staff with local community leaders,” Fries said.

Leach echoed Fries’s sentiment.

“I think it is gratifying all the way around,” Leach said, “for the people who work on it, and for the people who get bikes. In a way, for me, it sort of epitomizes Chuck’s [Fox’s] commitment to the community and trying to find ways that he can benefit a community and bring people together. He is one of a kind in my book.”