Bike theft inspires man to be neighborhood helper

East Sider Jeremy Sartain turned his experience of getting his bikes stolen into a positive one — he opted to fix neighborhood kids’ bikes for free, and handed out over 100 refurbished bikes to neighborhood kids. (Patrick Larkin/Review)
East Sider Jeremy Sartain turned his experience of getting his bikes stolen into a positive one — he opted to fix neighborhood kids’ bikes for free, and handed out over 100 refurbished bikes to neighborhood kids. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

After getting his prized racing bikes stolen from his garage, East Sider Jeremy Sartain turned the experience into a productive, community oriented venture to put tuned up bikes in the hands of kids throughout the East Side.

With the generosity of residents and the help of some kids from East Side nonprofit the Lift CDC, over 100 tuned-up bikes made their way into the hands of bikeless kids this summer on the East Side.

It all started when Sartain was prepping for his son's fifth birthday party on April 21, at their house in the Phalen Park neighborhood. As he was running around the house getting it ready for the event, he didn't realize his garage, with his two prized bikes sitting in it, had been left open.

When he finally realized the garage door had been left open, the bikes were gone.

He reported them stolen to police, and within a week, cops had tracked one bike back to a pawn shop at Rice Street and Larpenteur Avenue.

In hopes of spotting the second bike, Sartain decided to drive by the address of where the bikes were tracked back to, which wasn't far from his house. There, he saw a multigenerational household, with two brothers and their wives, grandparents, plus six kids, living in one run-down house.

As far as he could tell, he said, the mothers were the only ones going to work.

And he also noticed that the kids didn't have a full set of bikes to ride — rather, there were a few ill-maintained bikes that the kids would take turns riding, and some other that were unusable and in need of repair.

Bike fixit idea

Thinking over the situation, he decided to return on a Sunday afternoon, he said, and set out to offer to help the kids fix the bikes, and maybe catch a glimpse of the second missing bike. He happily and easily fixed up their four bikes. And within another week, police had recovered Sartain's second bike.

Thinking back on the kids whose bikes he fixed, Sartain realized: there were kids all over the neighborhood who similarly had unridable bikes.

So, he set to changing that. Doing some brainstorming with friends, he eventually came into contact with the Lift CDC, a Chrsitian non-profit based on the East Side that provides teens with job skills training.

He asked Aaron Day, youth programs director at the Lift, to partner on a bike fixing and giveaway program — he'd collect donated bikes, and teach kids participating in the Lift programming how to fix them, and then hold bike giveaway and repair events.

Day and the Lift were onboard, and put the word out to kids involved with the organization that Sartain was looking for people interested in learning bike repair skills, and soon, he had a team together.

He decided to start small, by doing a couple of bike fixing events with kids from the Lift.

"We don't have to save the whole world in one summer," he said.

Mounds of bikes

Through some online magic, Sartain posted on an East Side Facebook page and got well over 100 donated bikes.

"I just put a post on Facebook and it went nuts," he said. Mounds of bikes were piled in his garage and throughout his backyard.

He fixed most of them up using parts he got from his friend who runs Grand Performance Bicycles in Mac-Groveland. Some parts were donated, while the rest were sold to him at wholesale prices. The remaining 20 or so bikes were fixed by kids from the Lift.

He doled out the bikes at two events held in the Lift's parking lot on Payne Avenue, as well as out of his garage.

During the events, Sartain taught kids how to patch tires, adjust brakes, apply oil, and do minor gear adjustments.

Christopher Kirkwood Jr., an intern with the Lift, said kids he works with through the organization were thrilled to be onboard.

Six kids took part in the events, motivated by the idea that they could be able to fix their own bikes, or maybe get a job in a bike shop doing repairs one day.

"It was very rewarding for them," he said.

The whole experience has been encouraging for Sartain as well.

"It was super fun," he said. "All the kids were super delighted."

Thankful neighbors

Nicole Zambory's two boys were lucky enough to get bikes Sartain fixed up.

Her 10-year-old son's bike was stolen earlier in the summer, which bummed him out.

And her six-year-old son got the bike as he recovered from surgery — he came home, and was ready to hop on his training wheeled bike as soon as possible.

"Jeremy and his wife, Jennie, are wonderful," she said."People like that who are able to help out, they have no idea the amount of joy and happiness that brings to a child."

East Sider Kim Hoel saw Sartain's Facebook post announcing he was giving away free bikes, and thought of her 18-year-old nephew with autism, who was in search of an adult tricycle.

Though it was a longshot, Sartain told her he'd make a call out for one. In a spot of luck, a person from Shoreview responded, and gave him an adult tricycle in need of some repairs.

Sartain fixed it, and took it to Hoel's thrift shop on White Bear Avenue to present it to her nephew.

"He was smiling from ear to ear, which is pretty hard to get him to do sometimes," Hoel said.

She said she saw similar happy stories from other East Siders who posted on Facebook to thank Sartain.

"There was post after post thanking him for getting their kids a bike," she said, adding that she liked the thought of more kids out on bikes during the summer, and less inside playing video games.

Big plans for next year

Sartain figures, the more bikes in kids' hands the better. And even better, they could learn to fix the bikes themselves.

"90 percent of bikes that are ditched have a flat tire," he figures.

So, next year, Sartain's hoping to establish a nonprofit, possibly under the name East Side Bikes, with the Lift as a fiscal sponsor.

That way, the organization could become more formal and accept monetary donations. The intial goal would be to have an eclosed trailer with tools, and some money to pay the kids from the Lift who'd work alongside Sartain on the bikes.

Sartain imagines the trailer doing weekly fix-it workshops in two different East Side Neighborhoods, with kids from the Lift helping other neighborhood kids with bike repairs.

Sartain plans to do a fundraiser for the project in January during the St. Paul Winter Carnival, with the goal of raising $6,000 for the project.

Though there's a variety of socially-oriented bike programs such as Frogtown's Cycles for Change and Minneapolis' SPOKES, Sartain notes there's nothing like it on the East Side.

With a little perserverance and some help, Sartain could change that.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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