Kids Building Bikes hopes to shift gears for next generation of Indy's youth

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It’s all smiles at Nine13sports as the sun sets on Thursday, March 21.

“You guys are officially graduates of Kids Building Bikes,” said Kevin Duitsman, the curriculum and instructional facilitator, followed with a resounding cheer by a handful of teenagers and their parents. “You’re the 404th graduates of Kids Building Bikes.

After completing 16 hours of all the hands-on work that goes into building a bicycle during Nine13sports’ month-long program, the group finally got to feel the air blow through their hair and the sun shine on their faces while riding their brand new bicycles through Riverside Park near the nonprofit's headquarters.

“(The program) was incredible. I really liked learning the ropes and getting the hang of stuff," Isaac Stuller said. "Even though it was hard, in the end, it just made me feel like a better engineer. When I rode it, I was like, ‘I built this.’ It makes me feel good inside.”

Stuller is one of five students participating in the program from Independence Academy, a local school designed for students with autism.

“In our mind, I was not expecting this. I was expecting kind of an auto repair place with bikes everywhere and things everywhere,” Jnai Stuller, Isaac’s mom said. “And with (Isaac) being autistic, we were like, ‘can they handle … I don’t know,’ and it’s just, the staff’s amazing. I think it’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen."

Anthony Saliba, left, and Isaac Stuller use wrenches to tighten the brake system on their bicycles during class, Thursday, March 7, 2024, at Nine13sports in Indianapolis.
Anthony Saliba, left, and Isaac Stuller use wrenches to tighten the brake system on their bicycles during class, Thursday, March 7, 2024, at Nine13sports in Indianapolis.

It’s safe to say that most adults haven’t built a bicycle from beginning to end, let alone spend 16 hours in a workshop practicing how to use an array of tools, learning proper safety techniques and dirtying up their hands with grease.

In a historical automobile warehouse along North Indianapolis’ Central Canal Towpath, Matty Bennett and Duitsman are making sure that changes by helping the next generation.

Kids Building Bikes Open Enrollment: Learn more about how to sign up for classes

Bennett, the Building Bikes director with a storied background in bicycles, motorcycles, teaching and design, and Duitsman, a “lifer,” in a bike shop where he worked as a mechanic for the past 27 years before a brief stint as an award-winning Indianapolis Public Schools teacher during the pandemic, agree that Kids Building Bikes is all about “exposing kids to bicycles that wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to bicycles,” Duitsman said.

After each Kids Building Bikes class ends, Duitsman said that the No. 1 bit of feedback they get from parents is a growth of confidence within their children.

"This is giving bicycles back to youth and hopefully inspiring them to pick up another healthy habit," Duitsman said. "They may never touch a bicycle again, but they might become an auto mechanic, they might become an engineer."

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Kids Building Bikes hopes to shift gears for Indy's youth