The Saratoga Sun -

Two-wheeled tuneups

Ralph Hicks follows an aviation engineering career by repairing and donating bikes

 


“No tag, no repair,” says Ralph Hicks who is behind the program Bikes for Kids which gives children donated and repaired bikes.

Bikes for Kids takes a contributed bicycle and will either recondition it or use the bike for spare parts. Hicks says the program is sponsored by St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Saratoga with financial support from The Foundation for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming.

Hicks also repairs children’s bikes (wheel size 12” to 24”) the first time free including labor and parts. Thereafter the labor is still free but parts are charged at cost.

He offers the same deal for adult repairs on bikes, free labor, but parts are at cost. Hicks says that for adult bike repair he does accept donations for the work done. All the proceeds from that go to support the Bikes for Kids program.

To start the process of repair, first put the bike in need of repair into the designated rack near the entrance of Bike for Kids repair shop at 206 N. 1st St. in Saratoga. Next, after putting the bike into the rack, there is a station near the door with a small wooden box that has info tags to fill out. The final step is to attach the tag to the bike and Hicks will get in touch after he has looked the bike over.

Once a bike gets into the shop, Hicks usually first inspects the tires. After assessing the condition of each tire, he moves on to check the brakes.

After an adult gets a bike fixed, they are given a sheet detailing work done along with a picture and serial number.

“With so many big trucks going through town at thirty miles per hour, it worries me,” says Hicks, explaining the thorough examination of brakes and wheel of all bikes he works on.

Derailleurs are next on the inspection. He makes sure the cable is greased and able to shift cleanly.

Lastly he checks the alignment of the wheel by setting it up on a stand and then spins it while checking the spokes, tightening them and making any imbalance disappear.

Hicks also gets help from Saratoga resident Mike Day.

“I would never been able to repair all the bikes I have without Mike’s help. I would have been sunk.” said Hicks. “He was invaluable at the rodeo.”

Hicks is referring to the Bike Rodeo held at Hanna Elementary May 12, where he and Day tuned up and repaired bikes for the event. Day assists Hicks whenever he can.

Hicks spent thirty years designing military and commercial aircraft, so his engineering background served him when he created the stand he puts the bike to work on.

“I wasn’t happy with the stands I found, so I made this,” said Hicks as he pointed out the flexible area for handle bars.

Hicks started the Kids for Bikes program in 2015 when he was at the landfill and saw two kids bikes that were almost brand new. He thought it was a such a waste, he took the bikes, cleaned them up and gave them away. Two more bikes came his way and in one month, he fixed and donated four bikes to kids.

“I thought to myself, maybe this is what I am supposed do,” said Hicks. “So I set up a shop in my warehouse and started working with Sarah Lincoln at Big Brothers and Big Sisters and started getting donated bikes through them.”

Hicks ended up repairing 34 bikes in 2016. He realized a small town like Saratoga was unlikely to be able to support a for-profit bike shop. Hicks wanted to fill the void with his bike shop he started this year to work for adults where he charges for parts and takes donations for labor.

Hicks is knowledgeable about bike history also. The Penny-farthing bike, originally found in England had a 52” wheel, which often had people going head over wheel, sometimes killing the rider.

“Sometime in the 1880’s the bike chain came out and that changed everything. Bikes using the chain between the two wheels, became known as the safety bike,” said Hicks as he went over to the bike he was working on currently. “The first commercial of these bikes was made by Rover.”

Hicks pointed to the name on the bike he was working on, which said Rover. He said from it’s early days as an English bike company, Rover eventually expanded into automobiles and today is known for its Land Rover vehicles.

“What is interesting if you get into bike history, you find out all kind of neat stuff like that,” said Hicks. “Wright brothers built their airplane in their bike shop.”

He said in World War I, because fire engines could not get through the rubble of bombed buildings, a fire bike was specifically invented to carry hoses.

The industrial history of the bicycle is interesting because bike manufacturing was often the basis for other machines being invented, says Hicks.

Hicks also recalls the feeling he had when he was riding a bike by himself. That memory is what drives him to make sure all kids have a bike. It is a feeling he remembers and wants all children to know. He also realizes kids outgrow bikes quickly and it sometimes becomes difficult for parents to replace a bike every time growth spurts happen.

Bike for Kids program helps with this situation.

Hicks was raised in Laramie, went to University of Wyoming and during that time he had a job with the forest service surveying access roads. After college, he joined the Navy and served on an aircraft carrier. Leaving the Navy, he was hired by Vought Aircraft, which was later bought out by Triumph. Hicks says he would sometimes have eight or nine research developments going on at the same time. He worked for them for thirty years and retired.

A year after that retirement Hicks went to the Anglican School of Theology in Dallas and spent six years getting a degree in Spiritual Theology and Spiritual Direction.

“It was fantastic. I loved it,” said Hicks.

In 2001 he started preaching at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church and did that until last year.

“After that, the lord said, you need to do this, work on the Bikes for Kids,” said Hicks.

That is exactly what Hicks has been doing.

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