The Bike Library: Sharing the love of bikes with children in need

A Morrinsville man is making sure that any Waikato child who wants a bike can have one.

In his 40 years in Morrinsville, Graeme Porter has been known as a guy who can fix things. Bring him a bunged-up bike and he can get it rolling again.

When the talented retiree saw how many kids living with foster families or extended whanau would love a bike of their own, he got busy repurposing donated bikes and giving them away. He calls this project The Bike Library and, according to his wife Jenny, it's taken over his life. In the space of a month, he might send out 20 or more bikes for children all over the Waikato.

At AMI we like to shine a light on New Zealanders who go out of their way to do the kind thing, and we love the work Graeme does to help children in his region have fun and get exercise.

Graeme repairing a mountain bike

Making broken bikes whole again

“When a bike comes to The Bike Library, it's definitely not ready to just pump up the tyres and ride out again,” says Graeme. “Some bikes will require a full overhaul, some will require a service and some just won't cut it. I use those ones for parts.”

Often children will come to The Bike Library to choose the bike they like best, then return when it’s ready to ride. “The best thing is when children who have never had a bike come along,” says Graeme, who worked as a schoolteacher and editor and is known locally as Matua Graeme.

“I've got bikes for all sizes and I can match them up to the bike that will suit best. Those children have the opportunity to return the bike that they're using when they grow out of it, and then they can get a larger bike.”

girl helping to repair a bike

A library of a different kind

That means that during the course of their childhood, a young rider might get four or five bikes from The Bike Library. If they need a helmet, Graeme provides one of those too.

Based in Graeme’s beautifully organised workshop, The Bike Library is a place where small children can access a fun toy and older children can gain some sense of independence.

“Little children just want to scream around on the bike and that's generally what they do,” he says.

“When we start to get to the middle-sized bikes, we're going longer distances and, therefore, the children start to realise that, ‘Hey, I can get to places. I can go and see my friends. I can ride to school if I'm allowed and the traffic's okay. I can go to the pools in the summertime. I can do messages for people and use my bike because it's really quite fast’.”

some sweet repaired trikes and bikes

Bringing more bikes to more needy children

When Graeme’s not repairing bikes, he’s sourcing parts online. He has bought the stocks of several defunct bike shops, and a steady stream of courier packages containing bike parts arrive at his home each day.

Graeme loves what he does, but he’d love some help too. He also makes furniture in his workshop, but he hasn’t had time to do that in about six months. He is hoping to train some other “bike librarians” to take on some of his workload, and to grow the Bike Library concept to other parts of New Zealand.

Ask him why he is spending his precious retirement in his workshop tinkering with bikes, and his answer is immediate.

“It’s the reward of seeing a child receive a bike,” he says. “They'll say things like, is this really mine? Can I do what I like with it? Do I have to share it? We set the bike up, and again, it's just, is this really mine? Yes.”