Working from his garden shed in Newport, a grandfather has single-handedly rebuilt more than 500 bikes and donated them to kids and essential workers. We meet Mike Jones and ask him what got him started and why he's turned his garden shed into a bike chairty.
Kids go free
Mike Jones’s garden in Newport looks like a second-hand bike shop. Hundreds of mountain bikes jostle for position alongside swings, peek out from behind shrubs and lean dangerously against the garden furniture. I spot an old Marin Mount Vision, a Raleigh Burner (replica, sadly), and Tim Gould’s old Peugeot from 1991 (yup, another replica).
Down at the bottom it’s even stranger – this is where bikes come to die. Hundreds more are clustered between the trees, some with components missing or snapped brake levers, most with a decade’s worth of rust and all in need of some love. There’s an old pumptrack down here too – the bikes look abandoned mid-lap like the fallout from an industrial accident.
“I was hoping you wouldn’t come down here,” Mike says with a grin. “None of these bikes are scrap, they’re all salvageable but they need a lot of work before they can go out again, and my grandkids’ pumptrack needs some work too.”
He’s not selling these bikes though, this is no business, instead they’re all destined for people who desperately need them but can’t afford the outlay – local kids without means, essential workers for the NHS, those with special educational needs, and individuals down on their luck. What started with one bike bought and salvaged for £2.50 has turned into one of South Wales’s biggest bike charity schemes.
“Everyone remembers having a bike as a kid, and the thought that there are kids out there without them just gets to people,” Mike says. “For me, having a bike was just as massive part of my childhood – building dodgy ramps in the street, jumping over your mates, that kind of stuff.”
Mike didn’t start out with the idea of building a charity that has now distributed more than 500 bikes in just 12 months, instead he wanted to get his grandkids something decent to ride. “I bought one on eBay for £2.50 and did it up,” he says.
If his family needed bikes but couldn’t afford them then surely others would be in the same situation, Mike reasoned. He used his Twitter account to ask for unwanted bikes, and donations started to trickle in. “It’s just touched something in people that are interested in bikes, it just makes sense to them,” he says.
The trickle became a flood and now dozens of bikes a day are dropped off by the community, alongside deliveries from local business and cycling clubs, while the local delivery drivers now tip him off about abandoned bikes. Mike works on the project from a garden fundraised by TotalMTB, while he has more bikes stashed at a warehouse in the town thanks to construction firm Roman Road Marking. Then there are the spares and the tools – Pedals Newport supplies cables and outers, a bike shop in Cardiff dishes out tyres for kids’ bikes, Cwmcarn Paradigm CC brings him supplies, and he even gets stolen bikes, recovered by the police but unclaimed.
“The best thing though is the van that came from the Principality Building Society,” Mike says. “Their community guy saw it on Twitter, he’s a cyclist himself, and he offered me a van. I was doing a lot of dropping off and picking up, and the car was taking an absolute battering.”
At full capacity
His latest project is to build adult balance bikes, after a request from a special school in Cardiff catering for children with special educational needs or disabilities. “Adult balance bikes do exist but they’re expensive and basically just BMXs without cranks on,” Mike says. “I’m in the process of modifying some bikes for them for kids with balance problems, or problems pedalling.
“That reminds me, I found a bike the other day that ended up going to a 10-year-old boy with dyspraxia,” he says. “I saw a trike frame just by here in someone’s garden, I looked it up and realised it was a specialist frame worth about £700. I asked the guy if I could have it, he said yes so I fixed it up with a suspension fork and off-road tyres.”
It’s now Mike’s job, something that takes up all his free time. What drives him to dedicate so much time to the project? “I get to play with all these cool retro bikes,” he says. There’s more to it than that though, Mike’s wife now suffers from a neurological disease that meant Mike had to leave his job to be a full-time carer.
“That does come with a lot of downtime though and when you find yourself watching daytime TV then you know it’s time to do something,” he says. “It’s helped me as much as it’s helping other people.”
Mike has a problem now though, something most of us suffer from in miniature – too many bikes, not enough space. “The shed is great but now the walls are coming in on me and I need some more storage here.”
That’s not his only problem either; the big question is what to do with all the valuable stuff. “If someone’s donating something to me and they don’t know it’s valuable I’ll tell them right away,” he says. But there are plenty of bikes like that that arrive anyway – should he treat bikes like Tim Gould’s Peugeot like any other bike, and send it off to some charitable beneficiary? Or sell it online and turn the profits into his new shed?
“It doesn’t seem right like that though,” Mike says. “If people were to see the bikes they donated up for auction online it would look pretty bad.” There’s also a Marzocchi Z1 fork to consider, signed and donated by Tyler McCaul. One for the shed wall, perhaps.
The Free Bikes 4 Kids project Mike’s set up isn’t unique, there are other schemes across the UK and the world doing the same thing. What is different here though is just how much one man can achieve, mostly by himself. Please send donations to @PuffaJones on Twitter to help out.
And if you have any solutions to Mike’s dilemmas please write in or drop us a DM on Instagram or Twitter.