New College of Florida student Ryan Feller loves the freedom a bicycle provides.
When his high school friends in Weston were paying for their cars, he'd hop on his bike and go to town, saving money and peddling his way to a charitable idea called Bike Broward that provides used and repaired bikes to the needy and homeless so they can have transportation for work.
The 18-year-old is now at New College studying public policy and transportation. At the same time he's started up Suncoast Community Bikes for the Sarasota and Bradenton communities.
"It's amazing how something so simple can make a difference in a person's life, to be able to go to work and get access to social services," Feller tells Patch.
The organization is hosting its first-ever bike and bike part collection drive from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 at the 3975 Fruitville Road.
He needs all sorts of parts, but bikes in nearly any condition will do.
"We've taken bikes that seem unfixable, totally rusted through and we've made them function again," Feller says.
He spends his time with volunteers at a workshop at New College to refurbish and repair the bikes then partners with the Salvation Army, Bethesda House in Venice and the Sarasota Y.
Many of those bikes go to the homeless and those in danger of losing their home. Feller says that the bus isn't enough for these folks if they want a job because typically they're working late hours, often past when the bus ends service around 9 p.m.
"However, Sarasota and Bradenton, they're fairly small place geographically, so bikes can kind of serve that link between home and work," Feller says.
Feller started Bike Broward while attending Cypress Bay High School, located on the edge of the Everglades near Sunrise, when he was 15 years old, running the organization out of his garage and expanded to a storage space to hold the bikes.
In those days, he's bike 80 to 100 miles in a week to get around town, now that's cut down to 40 thanks to being close to the college campus.
When college beckoned, he and his friends had gone their separate ways. Feller is now in his second year of college and first at New College and is putting down roots in this community. He knows he has just about three years to make the organization self-sustaining and to be able to transfer leadership.
The New College student-run Bike Shoppe gave him his first 25 bikes to refurbish and distribute. He holds workshops there for $5 per hour, you can have your biked worked on and fixed.
In the meantime, he's just trying to get this started in Sarasota.
"Our biggest need is always more bicycles," he says.
Any bike part will do, too, but it's critical that these folks receiving the bikes get a U-lock for the bike so it won't be stolen. The cable locks aren't good enough because they can be cut off easily, Feller says. The organization is buying these locks at wholesale price, but it sure would be great for them to be free.
The bike recipients are also responsible for providing a headlight and taillight for their bikes at night, he adds.
Feller hopes to do these bike collection drives regularly, but if you're not able to come out, you can call Feller at 941-894-4333 to schedule a pick-up.
If you go
Suncoast Community Bikes Community Drive
Noon to 3 p.m., Saturday Dec. 15
Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota 3975 Fruitville Rd,
For more information, visit http://www.suncoastcommunitybikes.org/