A bicycle opportunity built for two

Charlie Harper
Charlie Harper

Call it a lesson in recycling that created a learning opportunity for one young man in Muscatine and an equally important opportunity for someone else.

Last week, my wife, Nancy, pointed out a bicycle that had been abandoned in the alley between Musser Public Library, where she works, and MCSA, where I am the deputy director. The bike had been there for several weeks.

A day or so later, I met with Sgt. Vince Motto of the Muscatine Police Department, who is a board member at MCSA and has been assigned the shelter as part of his community-policing efforts. During our visit, I mentioned the bicycle.

Motto found the bike’s serial number and ran a check with dispatchers at the Law Enforcement Center to see if it had been reported stolen. It had not.

And that made the bike MCSA’s responsibility, according to Motto. If the bike had been reported stolen, he said, he would have taken it and returned it to the owner. But in a situation such as this one, in which the bike had been abandoned, the police department no longer impounds it for a year to see if someone claims it.

Since I suddenly found myself with an old bike in disrepair, I could think of only one thing to do: Call Charlie Harper.

Charlie, his son, Greg, and the rest of the staff at Harper’s Cycling & Fitness in Muscatine have rehabbed old bikes for years and given them to MCSA. Whenever someone trades bikes, if the old bike is still useable but not something that can be easily resold at the bike shop, the Harpers donate it to MCSA. It’s an arrangement that works for them and for MCSA because bicycles are the primary mode of transportation for many of the shelter’s residents. And this way they are getting a bike that is safe to ride.

The men’s bikes are often snapped up as soon as Charlie drops them off.

Here’s where the learning opportunity comes into play. Harper’s Cycling & Fitness employs three generations of the family. And Charlie gave this old Schwinn to his grandson, Ian Henriksen, 15, the son of Eric and Patty Harper Henriksen.

Charlie’s instructions were pretty simple: Find and fix whatever was wrong with the bike, using as few new parts as possible. And when Ian was done, he had:

  • Straightened the bent front wheel.
  • Replaced the rusty chain with a new chain.
  • Replaced the rear derailleur with one that had been salvaged from another used bike that was in bad enough shape it couldn’t be repaired or resold.
  • Adjusted the bearings in both wheels.
  • Straightened both crank arms.
  • Repaired a rip on the seat with a piece of black electrical tape.
  • Cleaned everything up.

For Ian, it was a chance to practice skills that are taught in his family the way other Muscatine families teach their sons and daughters to ride bicycles.

And it will result in someone else getting a good bike.

It’s a win-win in the truest sense.

Eric Henriksen, left, and his son, Ian, competed Sunday, Feb. 3, in the Ames Assault roller races at Bikeworld in Ames. Ian placed third among 16- to 18-year-olds, finishing the two-mile race in 7:09.

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