The Cycle for Good
Rick Anderson is an avid re-user and recycler. When my brother and I were very young, I remember my dad taking us on walks to nearby construction sites where we would pick up soda and beer cans leftover from the workers. After a couple months we had several large trash bags full, which we loaded up and took to the recycling center. To my young amazement, we were given money for these old cans and our first lesson about the rewards of work were born as my dad split the earnings between the two of us to open our first savings accounts. As we grew, we would look forward to Saturday garage sales with Dad where we would find all kinds of fun stuff for pennies on the dollar. I learned to ski in several $2 to $3 pairs of boots, caught baseballs behind the plate with a $.25 catcher’s mitt and still carry around a cooler we’ve had in the family for more than 25 years. My dad, Rick, continues his conquest of finding great deals while keeping items of value out of the landfill and is most interested today in one main item—bikes.
Rick’s Bike Sale most likely got started when it was clear my brother and I wouldn’t be sticking around Minnesota for college. I ran off to Montana, and my brother to Arizona, an unfortunate byproduct for my parents exposing us to travel at a very young age.
“When you boys went away to school it was too quiet around here, and we weren’t really done being parents,” my dad tells me. “We found a local mentorship program, got screened and started mentoring a young boy named John.”
John is one of six siblings who were adopted by a single mother so they would remain together as a family. Mentoring involves spending a few hours a week with John; mostly hanging out, playing games, watching movies and providing a positive environment for him. As the bond grew and my parents met John’s siblings, Dad realized he wanted to do a little more for them. Noticing that not all of them had bikes, and the ones they had weren’t in great working order, Rick set out to the Saturday garage sales in search of six quality bikes. In no time he found them, tuned them up and gave them to the kids at a very small expense. The light bulb then went off in his brain.
“I thought to myself, ‘I can find bikes pretty easy, tune them and fix them up, and whatever I sell them for, donate the money back to the mentoring program,’” he said. “I didn’t look too far into the future, but it’s really taken off and it’s unbelievable to see right now.”
Rick’s first bike sale was held out of his garage with help from my mom and a couple of neighbors. It raised a couple thousand dollars of which he was very proud. This past May was the 10th time he’s run the sale. It’s now held in an auto repair shop parking lot, staffed by a small army of volunteers. The most recent donation was $46,953 now split between two organizations.
“All the people that help with this is just incredible,” Rick said. “People are so happy to give us bikes, everyone at the sale is smiling and I never have to recruit volunteers. Everyone is just happy to do it.”
It took us 10 years but this was the first sale my brother and I attended firsthand. In the beginning we helped from afar, me writing press releases for Dad to send out to local news outlets and both of us encouraging our friends back home to spread the word about the upcoming sale. Living two time zones away and starting families of our own, it had slipped our minds on what an important day and event this is for my dad. Luckily my mom gave us the motherly reminder about it and we all decided to surprise Dad with two more volunteers. He was blown away when I walked in the door around 6pm Thursday night and even more shocked the next morning when my brother came crawling up from downstairs for breakfast after I snuck out to pick him up from the airport at midnight.
The work for the next Rick’s Bike Sale typically begins about three weeks after the last one ends. People hear about it from friends and neighbors who picked up a bike or donated one and are eager to donate their unused bikes to the cause. Today, going to yard sales is more of a rarity as the phone rings almost daily with someone offering up a bike for donation.
“It’s really fun to give the money, but I get just as big a kick out of keeping bikes out of the landfill and into the hands of someone who really wants it,” said Rick.
Once a bike is donated, Rick, along with Randy Bailey and Greg Thompson, divide them up to get them tuned, adjusted, cleaned up and stored until the day of the sale. The lead up to the 2018 sale saw more than 530 bicycles donated—a ton of tuning for just three people. At any given time there are 40 or so bikes in Dad’s garage as well as wheels and tires hanging from the ceiling, and boxes of kickstands and brake cables he’s saved off bikes that were too broken down to be restored to working order. “If I can get a kickstand, handlebar grips or tubes off one of these bikes, that’s five more dollars I don’t have to spend which goes to charity instead,” said Mr. Recycle.
As the sale grew, where to put everything became one of the biggest issues. Pleading with neighbors and friends, Rick found basements, and a few other locations spread across the county, but realized he needed a more efficient system in order to maximize his time spent on bikes and minimize traveling to and from storage. A local towing company was in possession of several unused semi trailers which have been offered up for the sale. Bikes are now secured and even hung from the truck roofs, and the trucks can accommodate several hundred. They are stored at a nearby vocational school and are dropped off right at the front door the day of the sale.
When the sale weekend finally arrives, volunteers get set on their tasks. When I arrive at 7:30 on Friday morning, I’m surprised to find close to three dozen people ready to help out. I see my parents’ friends from college, our neighbors, my dad’s fishing-club buddies and my uncle and cousins. The semi pulls up and we start unloading. Bikes are organized into children’s, men’s, women’s, road bikes and vintage/classics, but not before more than 1,000 tires need to be aired up. Several volunteers have brought their own air compressors, and there are a few on hand at the shop. The seemingly monumental task is shockingly done in just a couple hours. My Uncle Dave sets to the task of getting all the bikes in line, and true to his unbelievable attention to detail, he has them all lined up by size and make, with all the front wheels tilted at the same direction in time for the pre-sale Friday evening.
Local high school honor society members volunteer to stay up all night and watch the bikes to make sure no one runs off with them, and after a 12-hour Friday set-up day, the main event arrives. Like a wave, people come rushing in, searching for the best selection early. Some have heard about the sale while others drove by and stopped to see what all the commotion is about. Volunteers in bright green shirts direct eager shoppers to the style of bike they are looking for, help adjust the seat to proper height and let them go for a test ride. Others man the shop for last-minute tuning and adjustments, and more take payments in the form of cash or credit. It’s a whirlwind of a day, and after four hours there are just a few dozen leftover, all of which will go to another garage sale to benefit a local juvenile diabetes organization.
In 10 years, Rick has donated $177,257 and saved thousands of bikes from landfills, but what might be most important to him is completing a cycle that started when he was mentored as a young boy. My dad has always been honest with us about the home he grew up in and how his father was not a nice man, putting it lightly. A neighbor, Russell Godfredson, sensed this and gave my dad a job in his Schwinn Bike Shop where he would earn $.15 per bike putting pedals, handlebars and seats on boys’ and girls’ models. It was a place where he was safe, treated with respect, taught the rewards of hard work and lessons in perseverance, something he instilled in his own children and something he hopes to instill in the other children he continues to mentor today.
“The whole point is to let them know that you care, that they have value to you and that you are listening to them. By your actions you are hopeful that something sticks. I know things definitely stuck with me,” Dad tells me.
Rick knows he’s found his calling in retirement, which he promises is not far off. He’s insulated the garage so he can work comfortably outside during brutal Minnesota winters and even sold his fishing boat to make even more room and more time to devote to the annual sale. He credits the amazing growth to Greg’s commitment to fix any problem and Randy’s unstoppable energy and networking. “His mind never rests; he’s constantly making us better,” said Rick. “I’m always afraid another nonprofit will snag him away from me.”
The bikes are already coming in for the 2019 sale. The high-end donations include full-suspension mountain bikes, ultra-light $700-plus new Trek and Specialized road bikes, and even a recumbent which they recently sold online for $3,500. With the final young child in the family of six already midway through high school, Rick’s 10 years as a mentor with the same family will be coming to a close soon. He hopes that through the sale he can find a few people who like to tinker, whether young or old, and teach them how to fix bikes, much like Russell Godfredson did for him.
As I hang up the phone on a recent call with Dad, he tells me he bought two classic-looking banana-seat bikes at a garage sale for $1 each and that he could easily get $50 to $65 for them. I can sense the excitement in his voice and how incredibly rewarding this is for him. He also lets me know of another $1 spent on a brand new fiberglass mop bucket and mop, perfect for cleaning up the shop area. A few more items saved from the landfill and put to good use.
Keep up the good work, Dad.