Free Wheeling

An Orange County couple fixes broken bikes, then gives them away to local children

Laura Grafe of Middletown believes that every kid deserves a bike. So when she and her husband, Chris, spotted more than a dozen trash-bound bicycles one weekend during her neighborhood’s spring cleaning, she decided to do something about it.

“All they really needed was a little TLC,” says Laura, a former Hickory Farms store manager. Chris, a mechanic, was able to patch up the bikes in their garage. “Originally, we were going to keep them,” she says. “But when we saw that some children in the neighborhood were interested, we decided to do something much, much bigger.”

So, Grafe’s Free Bike Drive was born. During its three-year run, the Grafes have repaired more than 650 used and donated Mongooses, BMXs, and antique bikes for 330 children — and counting — at no cost. A steady trickle of volunteer mechanics, donors, and local kids help keep the program rolling along. The Grafes dream of holding the drive in a stadium of sorts, where kids can enjoy the bikes safely while they perform repairs on-site.

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Despite local support, the Grafes struggle to maintain a suitable storage space and workshop for the bikes. “Right now we’re using Self Storage in Middletown, and we’re so grateful to them for the few months we can stay there,” says Laura. “But we have expenses — like gas [for transporting bikes], lube, and spray paint. Sometimes we need to buy parts to finish fixing a bike, too.” She hopes that by next year she can raise the money to officially become a non-profit organization. For now, the Grafes continue to sell refurbished adult bikes — at significantly reduced prices — to help foot their traveling, advertising, and storage bills. “I really hope we can continue this,” says Grafe. “We’re big on recycling, and this keeps bikes out of landfills. Plus, we’re getting kids off the street. And to see them riding by on their new bikes — happy — is just so rewarding.”

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