Twice a week, dozens of kids ages 13 to 19 descend on the Sonoma Valley Teen Center to help out with Operation Bicycle. Sometimes they ride, usually they putter around, hang out in the bike basement and rebuild donated road bikes and mountain bikes that will later be sold to the public. Operation Bicycle is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m., under the direction of coordinator Adrian Palenchar.
In 2013, more than 40 students participated in Operation Bicycle’s Earn-A-Bike Program, earning 44 bikes by volunteering their time helping with the program. Teens earn credits by helping fix bikes that have been donated, then can spend those credits at the shop to “buy” their own bikes or parts.
“This introduces them to the world of cycling, a new set of hands-on skills and satisfaction from a job well done,” Palenchar said.
He believes in “bicycles as vehicles of change. They provide mobility to those who don’t drive. They’re a cheaper alternative for those who can’t afford cars. They build active bodies and minds. They are good for the environment and more.”
Operation Bicycle also provides helmets, lights and locks at zero- to low-cost to members.
Palenchar founded Operation Bicycle, and he also currently teaches bike and pedestrian safety in schools all over Sonoma County as a Safe Routes to School instructor. He works as a mechanic at Wine Country Cyclery and founded Plaza Pedicab, the wine-tour pedicab business that he recently sold.
In 2013, Operation Bicycle sold more than 50 bikes to the general public. Twenty-five more bikes have been repaired in recent weeks and are waiting to be purchased or earned by teens. Operation Bicycle is looking for volunteer mechanics of varying experience levels and they are always accepting bikes, bike parts and tools.
Donations can be brought to the Valley of the Moon Teen Center, 17440 Sonoma Highway, any weekday from 3 to 7 p.m.
Last year, Operation Bicycle also participated in more than a dozen farmers markets and community events by setting up a donation-based mobile repair stand, where 60 to 75 bikes were tuned-up or repaired, the funds from which have helped underwrite the program.
All teens in the community are invited to stop by and get involved.