Teens help assemble nearly 500 of the 5,000 free bikes to be given to Chicagoans

Greencorps Chicago Youth Program are in eight schools that are building between 40 and 60 bikes each for the city’s newest initiative to deploy free bikes and safety equipment across Chicago.

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Robert Harrington, a senior at Orr Academy High School, assembles a bicycle for the city’s Bike Chicago giveaway.

Robert Harrington, a senior at Orr Academy High School, assembles one of the 5,000 bikes the city will give to residents over the next four years.

Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Robert Harrington has loved building bicycles since learning how to from his uncles when he was just 9 years old.

“I just remember loving to use my hands to build something and then riding the bike around knowing I did it correctly,” said Harrington, who is now 18. “From there I then started working on cars which I also really like doing.”

Harrington, a senior at Orr Academy High School, is one of about 140 students enrolled in the Greencorps Chicago Youth Program who are helping build some of the 5,000 bikes the city is gearing up to give to eligible Chicagoans over the next four years.

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On Thursday, city leaders toured the high school to see how Harrington and his classmates assembled the bikes.

“We can see today, just how important this is,” Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi said. “Not only are you learning how to build bikes, you meet each other, you have an awesome thing to do over the summer and you are building bikes for Chicagoans.”

Biagi said the students were contributing to an initiative that will help connect people to bikes, increase clean modes of transportation and people’s ability to get around freely. Demand for these bikes is there, Biagi said, with more than 15,000 applications already filed.

“You guys are building those bikes, you are making it possible for yourselves, people in your community to move around,” Biagi said.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi and Drew Hines, program director of Greencorps Chicago and CDOT.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), from left, Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi and Drew Hines, program director of Greencorps Chicago and CDOT, speak with students at Orr Academy High School on Thursday.

Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Teens in the Greencorps Chicago Youth Program are working at eight schools, building between 40 and 60 bikes each. These teens will assemble nearly 500 of the first 5,000 bikes that will be delivered to eligible Chicagoans by 2026.

Three stations showcased how the students went about assembling a bike from scratch.

Harrington, who leads the assembling, was confident that he could put together a bike in under 10 minutes. “I’m sure I can do it in 2 minutes if I wasn’t distracted,” Harrington said.

Harrington is responsible for attaching the wheels to the bike frame, bolting on the pedals and making sure the handlebars are leveled. He also uses a combination of grease and adhesive to ensure everything is running smoothly.

After the bike was put together it goes to the second station colloquially called “ABC.” Here the students check the air pressure of the tires, test the brakes and make sure the chain is on correctly.

The final station was the helmet check where students showed city leaders how to make sure their helmet fits properly.

“The kids are actually taking agency in being a part of something much bigger than themselves,” said Drew Hines, program director of Greencorps Chicago and CDOT. “We are trying to teach kids how to understand bike safety and also learn how to safely ride.”

Hines said the students participate in drills in how to safely ride a bike in large groups, how to be alert of cars and the signals they should know.

Knowing these fundamentals is important because each student will leave the program with their own bike and other accessories.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) was happy to see the teens learning a practical skill during the summer.

“These are lessons that will be with them forever so when they get older and have their own children who need a bike they can simply build it themselves,” Mitts said. “This is also showing them how to be a team player by working together and even getting much-needed exercise.”

Mitts said getting bikes to people who need them is a great chance to expand mobility throughout the city and hoped the program can be expanded.

Applications for the bike giveaway are due Aug 4 and can be filled out online at www.chicago.gov/bikechicago.

Teens at Orr Academy High School enrolled in the Greenscorps Chicago program run through drills on how to safely ride a bike.

Teens at Orr Academy High School enrolled in the Greenscorps Chicago program run through drills on how to safely ride a bike.

Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

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