Originally published March 21, 2019 in The Daily Republic.

By Wendy Royston

Inspired by unexpected gifts and a decline in the number of bicycles outside local elementary schools, a local couple put the wheels in motion for Mitchell students to learn how to ride.

“This will hopefully inspire them to get outside, exercise and socialize with their friends,” Al Bainbridge said Monday as he and coworkers at custom motorcycle company Klock Werks assembled 54 bicycles that will be donated to Mitchell’s three public elementary schools today.

Al Bainbridge (left) and Brian Klock (right) announce their partnered donation to Mitchell public elementary schools live on Facebook. (Photo by Wendy Royston)

Struggling to provide extras for his only son when he and his wife, Jennifer, first returned to the area from California six years ago, Al Bainbridge shared his desire for a bicycle with his employer, Brian Klock. Soon, thanks to a phone call from Klock, David Bainbridge had his first Strider bike, courtesy of the company’s founder, Ryan McFarland.

“I was going to order it for them, but Ryan said he wanted to,” said Klock, who described his relationship with McFarland as a “two-wheeled friendship.”

The Bainbridges have always remembered the kind gesture fondly. Last year, they received another gift. Al Bainbridge’s uncle, Edsell Bainbridge of Ethan, left an inheritance for the couple, and they decided to pay forward some of the gifts that had made their own lives easier.

Bainbridge contacted McFarland about the newly established Strider Education Foundation’s All Kids Bike program, an eight-week curriculum to teach kindergarteners to ride bicycles. The Bainbridges contacted McFarland, offering to fund the $2,500 program for Gertie Belle Rogers kindergarteners, knowing Edsell would have supported the gesture.

Edsell Bainbridge never had children of his own, but he took delight in his nieces, nephews and motorcycles. Though times were tough for farmers in the 1930s, Al’s father and uncle purchased a 10-year-old Harley Davidson together in 1939.

“Motorcycling has been in the family for a long time,” Al said. “This, I’m sure, would put a smile on (my uncle’s face and my dad’s face), because kids is where it all starts.”

After learning of their employees’ plans, Brian Klock and Dan Cheeseman, co-owners of Klock Werks, decided to supplement the Bainbridges’ gift by funding All Kids Bike at L.B. Williams and Longfellow Elementary schools. Quality Woods is donating rolling storage units for the bicycles, pedals and helmets.

“That gift (from Strider) planted the seed that led to them giving back to the community, and we just came alongside them to give it to the rest of the schools,” Klock said.

In a live Facebook video announcing the gift to the local elementary schools, Klock issued a challenge to neighboring communities to support the program, the average cost of which for a kindergarten PE program for one school is $2,500.

“If you could get 25 businesses in your town to give a $100 bill, that can impact (approximately) 1,200 kids in your school over five years,” Klock said. “It’s a pretty cool opportunity.”

Mitchell School District Superintendent Dr. Joe Graves said the donation was a “wonderful surprise” for the district.

“Usually, when we need something, we need to go out and ask, but this was brought completely unrequested,” he said. “We try to have a diverse physical education program, and this really just enhances that for us. We want kids to be as active as possible, and a bicycle will encourage them to do that. Hopefully it inspires them to continue beyond the unit.”

Getting back outside

Though he wasn’t aware of specific data, Graves said he feels that bicycling is on the decline in the area.

“In my generation, as soon as we learned how to ride a bike, we were on them constantly,” Graves said.

According to Jenn Smith, education specialist for the Strider Education Foundation, the decline in youth bicycling is staggering and directly linked to the increase in electronics usage.

“There are so many kids who, for all different reasons, don’t know how to ride,” she said. “Kids aren’t getting outdoors and being adventurous (and) a lot of it comes down to the fact that they have those devices with lots of fun little things on it.”

The Strider Education Foundation was established in 2017 to help make bike-riding more inclusive for individuals with physical disabilities. In 2018, the kindergarten program was born. This year, more than 23,000 kindergarten students from 150 school districts in 15 states have participated in the program. The three Mitchell schools will be the first in eastern South Dakota to be a part of the program.

“We want everyone to learn to ride,” Smith said. “There will be some kids who already know how to ride, and we love that. But there are other kids who don’t have the means and can learn this way. And other kids maybe had a wreck and are afraid to ride again, but this a safe space for them to learn and conquer that fear.”

The curriculum that accompanies the Strider bikes asserts that bicycling improves the outlook for children’s health, socialization, academic performance and self-reliance.

Al Bainbridge said getting kids outside and moving can inspire them to be more active and independent.

And as they get older, “We can put a motor on it and let them go faster,” he added with a chuckle.

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