BRIGHTON – Disabled Vietnam veteran Dave Wolfe has been repairing bicycles for former inmates as a way of helping them once they regained their freedom, and over the past two years that effort has expanded as he works with local bike shops in a give-and-take relationship that also helps their customers.
Dave Wolfe, who suffers health ailments from Agent Orange, as well as PTSD, and his wife Judy have been giving to the community by providing transportation, service and education through Charity Bicycles, 9903 Weber St. in Brighton, which they established in March 2020 .
The Wolfes work with a number of nonprofits in the area, including Second Chance, Love INC and Catholic Charities, which connect the couple with people in need of bikes. They also repair and sell bikes at the shop.
Dave Wolfe’s volunteer work has been going on for five years, ever since he connected with LOVE INC after learning people were donating used bikes.
“Mostly what they wanted of me is to repair bikes for ex-cons,” Wolfe said. “When they get released from the jail or prison, they need transportation.”
He said providing people with transportation means one less thing they need to worry about.
“They have challenges, so now they also need transportation, so they can try and scare up some money and pay these bills. That’s where we come in,” Dave Wolfe said.
When the pandemic began, he found that the demand for bikes was increasing and the supply was limited: He wasn’t getting as many donations through LOVE INC.
“I started going to salvage yards and buying bikes that people discarded,” he said. “Then I started going to bike stores and they started giving me their trade-ins. (At) the bike stores, I would go pick up 40 or 50 bikes at a time.
Wolfe began to build a relationship with local bike shops, including Hometown Bicycles and South Lyon Cycle, and they developed a partnership that supports one another.
“(Hometown Bicycles was) over 450 bikes behind with doing repairs and tuneups. The bike stores got way behind,” Wolfe said.
The shops couldn’t service all the bikes that needed care, at a time when people were limited in what they could do for entertainment and recreation because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you have new bikes you don’t need very skilled people to put them together,” Wolfe said. “They got caught without the mechanics they need for doing their repairs and they got caught with the fact that they couldn’t get bikes to sell.”
Although the Wolfes’ nonprofit has only been in existence for about two years, Dave Wolfe has been fixing things most of life.
He worked as a service manager in high school, and spent two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, and worked in aviation maintenance. Wolfe also worked on industrial and commercial equipment, such as boilers and water heaters.
“I got them all running,” Wolfe said. “I worked on vehicles as a kid and did all kind of engine swaps and rebuilt transmissions, so I just love that stuff, so then I was a maintenance officer and test pilot in the National Guard. I always worked on my own vehicles.”
Now, in addition to helping individuals locally, he is working on setting up training opportunities across the state, including educating people how to service bikes, so they can open their own places and can continue to help others.
“I train people how to repair bikes and then we give the bikes away and then some of these times somebody might need a bike and we’ll say well if you want to repair one you can repair it, we’ll talk you through it and you can keep it,” he said.
He added, when the opportunity to fix bikes was presented to him, it just seemed natural, and it fit into his philosophy of helping people.
“When we help somebody and I get them back on their feet, that’s a big payoff. When they can get their life put together that’s my reward. That’s what I like to see,” he said.