Outreach with broken bicycles


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, March 16th. 

Thanks for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: bicycles. 

One upside of the pandemic is a greater demand for bikes. One downside of that though is a supply problem. Last month an insurance company reported that bike theft is up more than 20% over last year. Today, WORLD reporter Jenny Rough talks with a pastor who turned a stolen bike into a ministry.

AUDIO: [SPINNING WHEEL]

JENNY ROUGH, REPORTER: On a recent Friday afternoon in northeast, Virginia, 44-year-old Robbie Pruitt spots a high-end, name-brand mountain bike. The bike has a U-lock secured on the crossbar. Hefty steel with double shackles. Pruitt takes a saw with a metal cutting blade to bust the lock.

AUDIO: [CUTTING BIKE LOCK]

When that doesn’t work, he tries a sledgehammer.

AUDIO: [HAMMER POUNDING BIKE LOCK]

Nope.

ROBBIE PRUITT: Well, I would never be a bike thief!

Exactly right. Pruitt isn’t trying to steal the bike. He’s trying to fix it. 

AUDIO: [Pruitt fixing a bike]

But bike theft is what motivated Pruitt to start repairing bikes for others in the first place. After riding his own mountain bike on a dirt trail last September, he left the bike strapped to his car outside his home in Ashburn, Virginia.  

PRUITT: It was going to rain, and my bike was muddy from my mountain bike ride. So, I was just going to leave it and let the rain clean it off, you know? 

Later, Pruitt noticed the empty bike rack.

PRUITT: I knew right away somebody had stolen the bike.

He warned his neighbors.

PRUITT: I made a post on Facebook that my bike got stolen, so be careful to lock them up. 

Because of the bike shortage caused by the pandemic, Pruitt couldn’t find a replacement. Parts were also hard to find. Stores had a backlog on bike repairs

All this gave Pruitt an idea. 

PRUITT: And that’s when I decided to reach out to the community and if, indeed, people had bikes they didn’t want, or that were broken. I could fix them and give them away. Or get them back on the trail. 

So on that same Facebook post, he made an offer: If anyone needs a bike or a bike repair I can help you for free. Not long after, bikes filled his front yard. He fixed 30 that first week. And posted a second offer.

PRUITT: That the one where it got pretty big. I started numbering them. 

Pruitt has fixed over 200 bikes since October. 

PRUITT: Every one of these bikes were donated by someone. This is about the community’s generosity. The community is doing this.

Pruitt has always been handy, even as a toddler. As the story goes:

PRUITT: I would have a hammer and a screwdriver in my diaper, and I called it my broke-fix-it and my oo-iver. So I’ve always been taking stuff apart. I’ve always been tinkering. 

His handyman skills continued into teen years—out of necessity. Pruitt’s parents divorced when Pruitt was 1 and he had an absent father. 

PRUITT: You have to learn how to fix it. And so I did. I just worked on the bike myself.

No YouTube instructional videos. He took the bike apart, kept the pieces in order, and reverse engineered.

PRUITT: And try to put them back on the same way, you know? Certainly I broke things beyond repair. It was broken when I started, so why not give it a shot?

When Pruitt was a six, someone stole his Big Wheel. Later, his BMX bike. Pruitt isn’t happy about all the bike theft he’s experienced. But a part of him understands. He was a troubled youth. 

PRUITT: I started drinking and smoking cigarettes in sixth grade, breaking and entering. I had gotten arrested with the wrong crowd of people. 

His grandfather and a church pastor mentored Robbie.

PRUITT: And I think it’s also why I don’t get too bent out of shape, I guess, that somebody stole my bike. Because I did stupid things when I was a kid too. You never know what’s going on in somebody’s life or what their motivation is.

Back in his yard, Pruitt sets a donated bike on a stand and gives it a look over. First, he squeezes the brakes. The back brake on this one needs tightening with a wrench.

PRUITT: Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. Unless you’re dealing with spokes, and then it’s backwards. It’s lefty-tighty, rightly-loosey, which you learn the hard way. 

Next, he checks the grips; the seat.

PRUITT: Just a little crooked. Straighten it out just now. 

The cables and chain. 

PRUITT: So once I cut this chain off, put a new derailer on it.

He keeps spare parts in the laundry room. Finally, he checks the tires for dry rot, tread wear, and air.

PRUITT: I’m also spinning it to see if the wheel’s running true, or straight. And it is.

Finished. 

PRUITT: They go as quickly as I can fix them, they’re gone.

Some want to take up bicycling as a new hobby. Others want to gift bikes to their children. Or replace a bike they have outgrown. 

Once, while Pruitt worked on a bike, a group of neighborhood kids rode by: 

PRUITT: And they were circling around this circle, and I invited them to come over, socially distanced of course and asked them if they knew how to work on bikes. And they said no. And I said, “Well, you want to learn how to replace disc breaks?” 

The kids kept coming.

PRUITT: They just started bringing their bikes to me. I broke my pedal, can you fix that?

Yes. Not only would he fix it. He would teach them how to. 

PRUITT: I’m getting to teach these kids a skill, to take something broke and fix it. We’re all broken in some way, shape, or form. I’m broken. You’re broken. God doesn’t just throw us away. He fixes us. He repairs us. 

This spring, he hopes to hold more pop-up clinics. Lesson one: Pump up a flat tire. 

PRUITT: We want to get this up to 40 psi

Flats are the number one reason bikes are abandoned. But it’s a simple fix! Other bikes are not easy fixes. 

PRUITT: Others are, have been hit by a car, like this one. This one got run over, and the wheel is completely out of true. 

But even problems that seem insurmountable can be tackled one step at a time.

PRUITT: I’ve talked to kids about bikes and the whole thing about we all have our problems. If you can assess the problem, you can fix the problem. We just assessed some major problems, a bent wheel, to an unnecessary clamp that we took off, that we threw away. You’re not going to ride until you get that dealt with.

Pruitt loves to mountain bike because he feels like he’s flying. Now someone else can see how that feels. The bike is ready for the road. And a happy rider. 

PRUITT: That is such a nice bike!

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Rough in Ashburn, Virginia.


(Photo/Jenny Rough)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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