Rebeca Meyen, Earn-a-Bike Participant

Physical and mental health, community building, and safe transportation are things Rebeca Meyen values for her and her family, and she’s discovered how a bicycle can be the perfect tool for them all.

Meyen works at Perspectives, a nonprofit in St. Louis Park, MN that helps women and families suffering from addiction, mental illness, and poverty to recover and improve their mental and physical health. Meyen loves to be active with her family by participating in community events or by walking, hiking, or biking together.

“I love hiking and walking, and biking is also very accessible to me, even though I am not very athletically-inclined,” she laughs. “I can go at my own pace on a bike.”

Biking wasn’t always a priority for her, though. “I had a bike before the Earn-a-Bike class and it was not in good condition,” she says. “I didn’t know how to fix it and ended up giving it away to a friend who could fix it and use it. Everyone in my family has a bike, but getting one for myself wasn’t a priority because of how busy I was and because I didn’t feel financially able to spend money on getting a new one,” she adds.

She learned from a neighbor about Cycles for Change’s Earn-a-Bike program and how it gives people access to a free bike. “My neighbor had participated in the Earn-a-Bike program and recommended it to me,” she explains. “I knew I wanted to get a bicycle to bike with my kids and to commute to work since I live so close. Cycles for Change’s impact is huge by making bikes accessible to people who never thought they could afford one,” she says. Suddenly, with the cost factor eliminated, Meyen knew it was the right time to prioritize getting a bike.

The Earn-a-Bike program combines bicycle maintenance and safety classes with volunteer time at Cycles for Change. Each participant is given a bike to learn and work on and, in return for their efforts, participants “earn” their bike to keep.

Since earning her bike in October, Meyen has continued to work on it, and has also learned some new lessons. “I have been tinkering around with my brakes,” she says. “One time on a commute I had to fix my brakes, but I didn’t have tools with me, so I had to call up a mechanic friend to bring me what I needed. I learned I have to have tools with me when I ride,” she says.

Meyen also notes how her fear of biking in traffic has decreased since completing the program. “It has given me confidence in my riding ability and I feel like a safer biker. I am confident when I have the right of way and that I have the right to be on the road,” she explains. “I feel very empowered as a bicyclist now. And the drivers I’ve been around have been very nice about it. As a driver myself, I too, have been nicer to bicyclists, giving them their space,” she adds.

But, since the class was in late fall, Meyen didn’t have a lot of time to use her bike for commuting to work before the cold winter months settled in. “I’m too sensitive to the cold so I won’t be biking in the winter,” she says. “I’m looking forward to March or April—as long as there’s no snow—to start biking a lot more. I’m hoping it can become a primary source of transportation. It’s a lot of fun, too, with my kids, to spend time with them. I’ve been teaching them the rules of the road, and I look forward to doing it much more. But I have to get over my fear of biking up and down hills. My fear of going down a hill has to do with my fear of my brakes not working. So, learning how they work during the Earn-a-Bike class helped me to feel better and to know that my brakes will work and I won’t crash when going down a hill,” she laughs.

This is a fear that, during the last group ride of the Earn-a-Bike session, she actually conquered. “My favorite part of the program was the group ride at the end that was on the trails in St. Louis Park,” she says. “It was awesome. I pushed and powered my way to the top of a hill and totally loved that moment. We started the ride by going down the hill and ended by going up it. I made it out and back to the top of the hill without stopping,” she recalls.

Community is a huge part of Meyen’s life and she feels connected to the Twin Cities through bicycling. “I have lived in Minnesota for about eight years, but want to get to know the cities better because it’s such an amazing area,” she says. “I can’t really see it when I’m driving. Biking makes it a more personal experience. When something on your commute peaks your interest you can slow down and check it out. You can’t do that in a car. You can’t just stop quick to chat with people as you pass,” she says.”

Physical and mental health are issues that are very important to Meyen and affect the community in which she works. “If you have a family that is not physically and mentally healthy, it makes it hard for kids growing up to gain skills and build a strong foundation for their lives,” she explains. “Being able to get out and bike gets you out of the house, into the community, gets blood pumping through your body, and clean air into your lungs. It gives you the opportunity to build connections with the people around you. Self-care is built into biking,” she says.

Meyen is currently reading three books: one about happiness, one about success, and one about achieving your dreams. She loves watching her children develop and find their own interests and have their own successes in life. And she loves to help her clients at work to lead healthy, happy lives. Transportation, environmental sustainability, community building, and healthy living are all things Meyen utilizes a bicycle for, but she takes the health aspect one step further in terms of mental health. “I use it as a meditative stress reliever,” she explains. “I can center my soul while riding.”

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