Do you remember getting your first bike? I know I do. It was pink and glittery and had ribbons on the handlebars…which was great, don’t get me wrong. But I was more interested in the fact that it got me to my best friend’s house, to the gas station a few streets over to get a candy bar with friends during the summer. I rode it to school and felt like a ‘grown-up’ when I was in the third grade.  

Wheels for Winners wants every kid to have this kind of experience. I sat down with Stephen Bagwell to find out how they do that.

Give me a little bit of backstory about Wheels for Winners

The organization has been serving the Madison community for 26 years. Madison has a strong biking community; a key part of which is insuring that all children in the Dane county area have access to quality bikes.  Wheels’ founders saw an opportunity to use bikes to build communities, so their bike earning program began.

What is the mission of Wheels for Winners?

 To create a sustainable bike ecology where we get kids on bicycles, get them connected with their community and extend the life of older bikes by keeping them on the road.  When you first get a bike, it opens up so many doors. It immediately expands the area you have access to by a lot, gives you access to new places and freedom to reach further.  Many kids in Madison may not have the opportunity to access a bike for a variety of reasons. Wheels is here to bridge that gap and provide bikes to those who might not get them otherwise and to connect them with the community.

Everything Wheels does is about getting kids on bikes and keeping them in service and on the road. Biking is an outdoor activity, it’s healthy, it’s engaging with the community. If kids are biking, then the family is likely biking, and this develops the biking community generationally and sustainably. The more people that are biking, the better our biking infrastructure gets for everyone. It enfranchises our community physically.

Wheels is dedicated to engaging Dane county communities through cycling. For earners to earn a bike, they must do 15 hours of some kind of community service. Not only does this create investment and value for the earner in the bike, this also either starts or reinforces a model of community involvement.  Both the act of service and the bike are given value for our earners.   The earners see how our volunteers value their contributions and work.

How does Wheels work?

Bikes come in through donations throughout the year, and winter time is when most of the refurbishing and rehabbing happens. Wheels can take bikes in any state—if they can’t be refurbished, all useful parts are stripped from them and kept in circulation.

In the spring, earners start coming in.  Any kind of community service is accepted, as long as it does something good for someone else. After filling out the forms that document the service, earners talk to mechanics and chat about the service they did and why they’re excited to get bikes. The mechanics love talking to the kids and making relationships with them! They’re then fitted for a bike and a helmet, given a lock, talk about bike safety, and then are sent on their way with their new-to-them bike. Easy!

Wheels actively cultivates and maintains relationships with community organizations and groups to generate community projects for their earners and tailor their program to the needs of each community served.  Often, this is how earners learn about wheels.  Sustaining community partnerships is essential to the success wheels has had.  Wheels couldn’t do it’s job without the many helping hands those community partner’s provide.

What is your biggest need? How can people get involved?

The biggest thing is Wheels needs is outreach. We want every single person that wants to be on a bike to be on one. Wheels always welcomes help figuring out what barriers exist to accessing their services and identifying pockets of the community that they haven’t touched yet. 

As a volunteer only, non-profit organization, financial donations are always appreciated. Wheels is an efficient responsible organization with intentionally low overhead.  All money and bikes donated go directly into putting bikes on the road and keeping them there.

Wheels isn’t in dire need of volunteers, but know that if you’d like to join them, you’re welcome no matter what experience you may have with bicycles.  Daytime hours and evening hours are both needed; please reach out so that Wheels can have the shop open for earners even more often!  

For further information and contact please visit