Bedford-Stuyvesant cyclist John Shackelford will be pedal pushing through 8,000 miles of roadway, bringing the joy of biking to underprivileged kids around the country with his organization Smiles 4 Miles.
“I’m a prime example of what a bike can do to you when you’re raised in a lower income environment,” Shackelford told Brooklyn Paper. “If I can do it, then most people can do it.”
Shackelford plans to embark on the journey in August, when he will cycle to 10 different states and host bike giveaways for local youth, with the first leg of the tour taking the cyclists to Baltimore and his hometown of Washington D.C.
While Shackelford first planned to do the entire 8,000 mile trip in one run, with bike giveaways in the middle, he now plans on breaking up the trip into multiple stints, with a goal of hitting two cities per month.
To fund the bike giveaways, Smiles 4 Miles is fundraising with a goal of $20,000.
The idea for the massive tour and giveaways were cooked up by Shackleford after going on a 20 day bike tour last year, which took riders along the 1100 mile long route of the Underground Railroad for 20 days.
While on the ride, the participants participated in bike giveaways in D.C. and Georgia, giving away nearly 80 new bikes and helmets. The gratitude expressed by the kids receiving the bikes inspired Shackelford to pursue more giveaway opportunities.
“Seeing kids smile for the first time, who have never really owned a bike,” he said. “Something so generous like that was so contagious that I felt we should continue to do this.”
The cyclist spent the next year planning the route of the Smiles 4 Miles tour, and searching for used bicycles to incorporate into the giveaways.
Adding to the severity of the mission is the heavy strain on the nation’s supply of new bicycles brought on by a surge of popularity in cycling during the pandemic and a disruption to the supply chain that ships in bike parts from overseas. Even someone who can afford a brand new bicycle may find themselves waiting for months before one becomes available.
Shackelford has set out to recycle as many bicycles as possible in his quest, in an effort to both help kids and reduce waste.
“If we could somehow find a way to recycle these bikes that are on the street or in the basement or in the garage, and reuse it for the next generation, we’re actually doing the environment justice, and we’re doing the next generation justice,” he said.