By Dan Robelen
Special to WLD
Does your bicycle need a quick health check? Operating out of the Dexter Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings in May and June, the Bike Medic can give it just that. And best of all, it won’t cost you anything.
Bill Rittinger loves cycling, and he loves it enough to want to share it with others.
“I did ride my bike as a child,” Bill said. “I also learned how to ride a unicycle as a child. We learned from some circus performers. I got away from it when I got into college.
“When we had kids, we got back into it, riding around the neighborhood. With my kids and my brother’s kids, we used to joke that we should get a parade permit.
“I didn’t ride seriously, though, until a friend took me down to Delhi Metropark. It was around 10 miles. It was a first time on the open road, so to speak. And I was just hooked.”
Since then, Bill has done every kind of cycling, from the DALMAC to mountain biking.
It’s a big jump from enjoying riding a bicycle to repairing other people’s bikes for free, though.
The skills came from necessity. “Truth be told, I took my bike in to a repair shop, and got the invoice,” Bill said. “And I realized with the number of kids in my family, I needed to learn to fix bikes! As the number of bikes in my garage grew, I knew I had to learn to maintain them.”
However, the application of the skills for others was an act of kindness.
It started with helping one neighbor who happened to be on the city council. “We were just having a conversation out here on the street, and he asked me to fix his bike. As I took it back to him, we talked, and between the two of us, we came up with this idea, that it would be nice to have something down there with the new trail going in.”
This year marks the fifth spring that Bill and his crew have set up to help repair the bikes of people around Dexter.
The group keeps tools and a number of common components on hand; many issues, they can fix right on the spot. Other issues may require them to send the person to purchase a part, and they will install it for free.
“We have free parts and free service. It’s our service to the community,” said Deanna Rittinger, Bill’s wife. She also helps at the Bike Medic station, interacting with people, giving water to runners, bikers, and the occasional thirsty puppy. (There are dog treats at the station too.)
Bill is careful to call himself a bike “medic,” not a bike surgeon. There are some things he and his team can’t fix or don’t have the parts for on hand. “I really am not trying to set up a bike shop,” he said. “I’m not trying to steal business from bike repair places. I’m just trying to get people out there on their bikes.”
The most common repair is simply cleaning. “If it’s clean, it works better,” Bill declares. The next is adjusting derailleurs to help bikes shift properly. They also do tube changes and the occasional tire change. “When we do a lot of those repairs, we usually also true the wheel,” Bill said. “It’s easier to do the other work with a wheel that runs true.” His daughter Kim is practically a master of the truing stand.
Bill makes no secret about what drives him to help others for free. “For me, this is more a labor of love, a way to show the love of Christ to the community,” he said.
A number of others help with the Bike Medic station. The volunteers come primarily from Scio Community Church and Dexter Gospel Church. Bill says they share his vision. “Some of those folks like bicycling, but more than that, these are people who have a common vision for loving people,” he said.
Bill has a vision that goes beyond bicycles and into our interactions with and views of each other.
“Part of what motivates me is seeing how we have such jaded attitudes. I hope for someone to have an experience that they can walk away saying, ‘Wow, that’s a lot better experience than I expected it to be.’
“We’re so used to saying, ‘What is the catch?’ But there is no catch. You can talk with us about our faith or not – I’ll still fix your bike either way.”
Bill not only works on bikes, he works with people. He’s training new medics as he goes, instructing in the basics of bike repair while helping others with their bikes.
His hope is to build up a large enough group of capable medics who share the same vision to keep the bike medic operation running at the farmer’s market all summer.
Andrew Smith of Dexter Gospel, who has worked with Bill for a couple years now, says, “It’s an opportunity for me to apply something I’ve learned, work with my hands, and serve the community.”
So if you need a sip of water after running the trail, your bike needs to be checked out, or if you just want to talk with someone friendly, stop by the Bike Medic tents next to the Dexter Farmer’s market on Saturday mornings before the end of June.
They will have their tools, a helping hand, and they will also have a smile.
MAIN PHOTO: Bill Rittinger, the original Bike Medic, adjusts a cable. Photo by Dan Robelen