Building Stories One Bike at a Time

Building Stories One Bike at a Time

The Red Schwinn is a super cool bike. But, truly, it’s so much more!

The end of Old Hickory Lane had a cul de sac with a tiny creek. It was more like a tiny drainage ditch, but it felt like something unique and mysterious. It was my destination. I packed a small backpack with chapstick, a stuffed animal, and a snack, likely sliced apples.

I felt invincible, adventurous, independent, brave. I was determined to reach the creek all by myself, on my red bike. It was a dream. I felt empowered. This journey wasn’t the first bike adventure of my life, and thankfully, not even close to being the last, but it was memorable. And it began with my red bike — The Red Schwinn.

I was the fourth child to experience the joys of The Red Schwinn. Now legendary within our family, this red treasure has given this same sense of freedom and adventure for 11 children and counting. The trusty Schwinn was purchased for my older sister, Julie, in 1973 by my grandmother. I imagine my Nani made this purchase with great excitement. Julie was her first grandchild, and this bike was expensive at the time. She could not have anticipated the lasting memories and impact her gift would have upon five of her grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

My older sister is now 52. Her three children all experienced the freedom of The Red Schwinn. Up until 2008, the bike still had the original solid rubber tires. McLain Cycle and Fitness swapped them out and gave the bike a once over before my own three children had their turn.

Not everyone has a Nani to buy them a bicycle or inherit one passed down from generation to generation. However, our work here at Norte can help create other stories, traditions, and memories. We’ve already started to see them develop with repeat patrons to Norte‘s Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library. We already have young riders on their second or third bike in its short history, and they are all smiles when introducing the program to a friend or younger sibling.

As we roll into Northern Michigan Bike Month and summer of adventure ahead, there’s no better time than now to check out the bike library. Bikes can be checked out for as long as needed and returned when a child is ready for a new chapter and the next size up.

As for The Red Schwinn, it waits patiently and dutifully for the next generation in our family. The last member to ride it was my daughter Ella. Sometime shortly, but not too soon, one of my three children will pass it on, and another generation of independence and freedom will begin.

Keep it rolling!

Jill, Director of Operations

P.S. For adults looking to celebrate Bike Month, we also have previously loved bikes for sale and a few Essential bikes ready to roll at the Wheelhouse. Come see us, 10-6, M-F, and Saturday, 10-2.

2021 Bike Month Poster

Download your Mike Erway Design poster for Bike Month.

Safe and Responsible



Mrs. Kline, Mrs. Kloosterman, and the Grand Traverse Kids’ Bike Library

I have a special place in my heart for physical education teachers. My dad was my elementary school gym teacher. In middle school, it was Mr. Davidson and then Mrs. Luke in high school. All three of these mentors helped shape who I am today.

I recently met two more exceptional PE teachers, Mrs. Kline from Grand Traverse Academy, and Mrs. Kloosterman from Suttons Bay Public Schools. It turns out, Jodi and Jen are sisters. They grew up in Zeeland in the DeVree house. Jen graduated from Hope College while Jodi attended Cornerstone University. They both moved to the Traverse City area in the naughts.

Jodi and Jen recently came to the Norte Wheelhouse to pick-up a fleet of loaner bicycles to teach cycling to their lower elementary students. These bicycles came out of Norte’s Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library.

This library took off six years ago, thanks to a massive donation of bicycles by McLain Cycle and Fitness. It helps keep elementary-aged students pedaling by ensuring their bike always fits, no matter their family’s resources. Thanks to many supporters, kids can borrow a bike for as long as it suits them. Once they outgrow the bike, they return it in exchange for the next size up. All this, thanks to continued generous community support, for free.

Bicycles lead to freedom, independence, opportunity, and health. Bikes can take young riders to the places they need to go – to the park, their buddy’s house, or to school.

Knowing that students are learning bike safety in school has me excited, and I wonder if any of these young Mustangs and Norsemen will be inspired long term by their gym teachers like I was?

Jodi and Jen are now in the second week of their bike unit, and Jodi just told me, “The kids are having so much fun, and a few are learning to ride for the first time. Being a physical educator is the best job in the world!”

I’m so grateful for our physical education teachers. Thanks for what you do and keep awesome, Jodi and Jen.


An extended version of this column appeared in the Record-Eagle on October 22.

The Story of “No Bike? No Problem”

Last month, McLain Cycle and Fitness donated over 200 bikes to Norte’s Bike Library.


Two weeks ago, I met with the new Traverse Heights Elementary principal, Bryan Kay. We chatted about happy, healthy, ready-to-learn Roadrunners. I told him of Norte’s humble beginnings at Traverse Heights in 2014 with our very first after-school bike club.

We showed up ready to ride. Unfortunately, many of the students were also excited, but lacking good, working bikes. Of the bikes they did have, many had flat tires that wouldn’t hold air, brakes that were only aspirational, and we even had handlebars that popped off. We made it, but it was a lesson.

That experience made me realize that Norte needed to do a better job of leveling the playing field to make a difference in the lives of every child. If a kid didn’t have a bike – or a working one – we needed to provide one. Our programs would only be successful if we left no one behind.

Enter the Traverse City Bike Library.

The Norte Bike Library launched in late 2014 when Kris and Bob McLain of McLain Cycle and Fitness donated 20 gently used Specialized bikes from their incredible trade-in program. That inaugural gift was only the kindling to an explosion of generosity from the McLain family.

Six years later, thanks again to the McLain’s, the library redistributes nearly 400 quality bikes. The Norte Bike Library has two branches, Traverse City and Elk Rapids. And we have served over 550 kids. Thank you, Kris and Bob.

Happy, healthy, strong communities cannot exist unless everyone can participate—every single one of them.

No bike? No problem.