Not every Australian child has access to a working bicycle. While lucky kids outgrow their bikes and they pile up unused in garages, some families – such as asylum seekers or single income households – can’t afford a bicycle in the first place. Dr Cranky’s provides bikes to school children who would otherwise not be able to own a bicycle.
Dr Cranky’s founder, Bart Sbeghen, was working at Bicycle Network, an advocacy group for cyclists, and volunteering for Ride2School Day at his daughters’ school. As he parked the bikes, he noticed that a lot of them were in need of repair.
“They were unroadworthy,” Bart explains. “The brakes weren’t working, or the wheel was going to fall off, or the steering was really loose. I had a bike tool in my backpack, so I was trying to fix the things as I was parking them.”
Some children had even pushed their broken bikes to school because they wanted to take part in Ride2School Day. “I thought, ‘This is abysmal’,” Bart says. The following year, he helped Flemington Primary School partner with a local bike shop, so the kids could get their bicycles fixed before Ride2School Day.
A few years later, parent Peter Hormann had a great idea, says Bart. “Peter said, ‘Hey, why don’t we take in donated bikes that are sitting in the shed, fix them up and give them to other people – recycled bikes?’
“We set up under a peppercorn tree. Peter bought a trolley with bikes from home and I bought a few extra tools. The first couple of weeks we were just working on our own kids’ bikes, just to show activity. But then someone donated a bike. Another bike went out…”.
Peter is motivated by environmental concerns. Bart wants equity in public health. Both want kids to ride more. They asked the school if they could use the bin shed for bicycle repairs. “That became the Bicycle Hospital, as the kids named it.” A year in, they had repurposed 120 bikes.
Dr Cranky’s doesn’t cost schools anything to run. It relies on parents to volunteer and a staff member at the school to help coordinate the process. Dr Cranky’s provides training and a kit: the workstand, pumps, toolkits, spare parts, locks and helmets. “Right from the start, I built it to be really low-cost and scalable. It is a decentralised model. The idea with this is the communities support themselves,” says Bart.
Since its humble beginnings in a shopping trolley parked beneath a peppercorn tree, Dr Cranky’s has gone on to restore thousands of bikes for kids across 15 schools. It does three things: it recycles bikes, gets kids riding and connects people.
This is Pablo Francis’s fifth year volunteering at St Kilda Primary School. As a work-from-home dad, he derives social benefits from fixing bikes at his son’s school for a few hours each week.
“I taught my son to ride, which was great,” says Pablo. “To teach other kids how to ride a bike is satisfying because bike riding is such an amazing thing you can do your entire life.”
If you have a bike to donate or are interested in volunteering at your school, contact Dr Cranky’s: drcrankys.com.au