Give the gift of bikes this Giving Tuesday!


By donating to Charlie’s FreeWheels, you’ll be supporting youth in Toronto directly by providing them with free access to the education and skills required to build, maintain and ride their own bicycles.

The impacts of the programs and services provided by Charlie’s FreeWheels are diverse and long-lasting.  Over the next month we’ll be highlighting these impacts with stories from our 2017 programs and direct quotes from participants.

Charlie’s FreeWheels is a small non-profit with a big heart and an ever-growing community of supporters.  Every dollar donated to Charlie’s FreeWheels makes a huge impact!

The impact of…


“Charlie’s FreeWheels is great.  A place with an exceptional and social environment where students can meet both new tools and new friends.”


“I felt like it helped us gain knowledge of the bike community in Toronto which I was really unaware of before… it kinda made me realize that biking is a big part of the Toronto culture.”


For an organization that’s all about bikes – so much of the positive feedback that we receive is about the support provided by our community.  We ask every participant to let us know what has kept them from acquiring or riding a bike in the past, with the second most common answer being “lack of friends to ride with”.  Creating this sense of community doesn’t just happen – it’s carefully cultivated through the ongoing support of our exceptional staff, small class sizes, and empowering awesome youth participants and employees throughout the bike building process.


At Charlie’s FreeWheels ALL students (between the ages of 12-25) are welcome and we work hard to ensure that they feel that way. As a free and safer space for youth to access throughout the year, we want to make our shop space as comfortable, empowering and safe as possible. We accomplish this by offering safer-space programs for youth of all skill levels and backgrounds, and to welcome those that might not otherwise feel comfortable in other bike spaces in Toronto.  An example of this is our Girls & Trans program (established in 2014) which has received attention from news outlets such as the Toronto Star.


By donating to Charlie’s FreeWheels, you’ll be supporting this community by ensuring that we’re able to continue to provide youth with access to free programs in a safer space throughout the year!


Charlie’s Supporter Spotlight

Dark Horse Flyers Club & Dukes Cycle
Interview with Jon Houle, Vice President of the DHFC

This season’s Supporter Spotlight is on the Dark Horse Flyers Club (DHFC) & Duke’s Cycle. The DHFC recently adopted Charlie’s as their new club charity. We are so appreciative of the support Charlie’s is receiving for the fall Build-a-Bike programs and want to thank Jon from Dark Horse Flyers Cycling Club and Lisa from Duke’s Cycle for coordinating the donation of 30 sets of front lights (donated by Outdoor Gear Canada), locks (donated by Dark Horse Flyers Cycling Club)and helmets (donated by Trek bikes) and rear lights and bells (donated by Cycles Lambert ) for our Build-a-Bike program graduates!


What made the club want to support Charlie’s FreeWheels?

The Flyers were looking to support a local charity that aligned with our Club’s Mission and Vision and ideally supported youth initiatives. Our Club’s vision is to promote and grow the sport of cycling in all its forms, and it aligns with Charlie’s mission to mobilize, empower, and engage youth through bikes. As we’re a downtown Toronto–based club (many of our members live only a few minutes’ ride away), the partnership just seemed like a natural fit!

Where’s the team’s favourite place to ride?

Ooh touchy subject, I might get in trouble here…if you ask the mountain bikers, they’d probably say the Don Valley. The roadies would probably say routes like Stouffville, the Nuke ride, or Schomberg! And the cyclocross/gravel gang is always out finding some epic gravel roads in unexplored places. All to say, with over 250+ members we ride everywhere, so it’s hard to pick a favourite!

What’s your favourite thing about bikes?

I love that it’s a healthy pursuit that allows me to not only better connect to local neighbourhoods and make friends but also lets me explore new locations anywhere I go.

What are you looking forward to working on with the Charlie’s team in 2017?

I think our first efforts to equip Charlie’s fall cohort with helmets, locks, bells, and lights was a huge success! A huge and sincere “thank you” goes out to Lisa Stockus at Duke’s Cycle for her efforts in coordinating with suppliers to obtain amazing donations from Bontrager/Trek, Cannondale, Outdoor Gear Canada, and Cycles Lambert.

Going forward, we’d love to run a “parts bin drive” to get additional unused parts from members for Charlie’s to use with their classes. We’d certainly love to continue supporting Charlie’s classes with equipment in conjunction with our partners. Lastly, we’ve also kicked the tires as to how we could help Charlie’s with road riding skills development, an important item toward safe riding in Toronto’s city street.

James’ Ride 2017 – Charlie’s on the Camino

In 2010, I had the opportunity to experience the last 100km of the Camino de Santiago on foot. It would be a foretaste to this summer, when I had a chance to experience the Spanish pilgrimage again, this time a much larger portion of it and by my favourite mode of transportation- bike!

But why a pilgrimage you may ask? Credit card reward points. I checked my reward points before last Christmas, and pleasantly discovered that I almost had enough points for the equivalent of a round-trip to London, England. In talking via Skype with my friend William (former Little Trinity member who now resides in southern Spain), he suggested that if I was coming to Europe, perhaps I could come to Spain again and try to cycle the whole Camino with him. An offer I couldn’t refuse! (Note: I only had to bring my clothes and some panniers, as William had a couple of mountain bikes already.) Having been on the Camino in 2010, with William, I had an idea of what would be in store.

I already knew how marvellous the scenery would be. To take in the beauty of northern Spain, while riding for hours at a time, is a feeling that I’m sure many of you can relate to. That is why we enjoy cottages, beaches, hiking, camping, and other activities that allow us to be outdoors. It can refresh and rejuvenate us.

I looked forward to the scrumptious Spanish cuisine, served with warm hospitality. Fresh ingredients, with warm, baked bread, were often served with wine for us. All served with such hospitality that has been cultivated for centuries and part of the Camino experience.


From my previous time on the Camino, I also looked forward to meeting people from all over, who were travelling the same route, but from different backgrounds, life stages and doing it for various reasons, including spiritual or religious. I would hear about their lives-experiences, transitions, challenges, joys and brokenness.


And while I experienced all of the above, I would experience much more this time around.


Doing the Camino for a longer period this time, I learned a little bit about how to depend on nature and others. At some points, there were even some unexpected gifts along the way. A couple of times, there were fresh, ripe apples that had fallen by the Camino road/path side from a private trees. All along the Camino, were wild blackberries, so at times I could gather bunches into a ziplock bag, and offer it to other pilgrims passing by who cheerfully accepted. Perhaps the best surprise was a winery that had bought an old monastery along the Camino, and had two taps that were available for pilgrims – one for water, and the other red wine!


Though on our bikes, we travelled the same route as those who were walking, and so at times we were at a slow, steady pace that allowed us to meet people, see towns and sights, and have regular breaks. In some cases, we were able to end up at day’s end, at the same places of those who had walked and that me had met earlier in the day.


During the Camino, there was the gift of having connections from different parts of my life and who I am. Being with William, I was reminded of how special of a faith community in Toronto that I’ve been a part of for over 20 years. It is where I have had so many rich friendships and connection, that have encouraged and challenged me in my faith and many others ways.


I unexpectedly used what little Korean I have, when meeting a number of Koreans along the Camino, including 4 Catholic nuns from the moment that we literally began biking from our starting point.


I was able to use some of my high school French numerous times in speaking with French pilgrims.


My Haiti connection (from volunteering there in 1999-2000), happened with a staff person in the pilgrim’s office in Santiago. After finding out he was Haitian, I began to speak some Creole to which he instantly grinned from ear to ear, laughed and said “In my 3 years here, you are only the second person to speak my heart language. You have made my day!” (Incidentally, he was also a person of faith and studying in seminary.)


Though I was on a pilgrimage-vacation, I was glad that I was not oblivious to others’ brokenness. Though Hispanic (El Salvadorian by birth) and fully fluent in Spanish, William reminisced about his share of struggles and challenges of not being born and raised a native Spaniard. While nearing Santiago, William was also able to converse at length with a young Colombian man, who has faced his share of difficulties. He was selling Camino souvenirs and had one of his sons present, helping to make and assemble the merchandise. He had lived in Spain for several years with his wife and young children, and he was struggling to make ends meet. He was working long hours and also had to be on constant watch for police, who could come after him and/or confiscate his inventory at any given moment.


In addition to this, a large part of my trip’s purpose was also to raise funds for Charlie’s!

I was thankful to be able to experience and receive so much more than my first Camino experience. A significant part of what I experienced was due to cycling.


As you travel along the Camino, many people will say “Buen Camino” to you, to which you respond in kind. The meaning behind the saying is a wish or hope that you will travel well, or journey in a good way. So I say to you “Buen Camino” and hope that in years to come, I can continue to support Charlie’s while enjoying the opportunity to travel by bike! (Maybe part of the Trans-Canada Trail next summer!)




“Ride on!”

Bike Poetry? Bike Poetry!

When you enter Charlie’s Freewheels, you don’t expect that a poetry workshop would be held here. You see all the bike mechanics, the tools, the bikes themselves, but soon you realize that this is why the workshop is called Bike Poetry. Bike Poetry! Bike Poetry? Bike Poetry.


As I walked into the Charlie’s kitchen/sitting space, I was so confused about what Bike Poetry meant. I don’t think anyone had a clue. Tanya Neumeyer, the artist in charge of leading the workshop, was an amazing person and she explained to me what Bike Poetry meant. Bike Poetry is when you’re riding your bike and as you have ideas for your poetry, you stop and write them down and continue your ride. Although we didn’t ride our bikes anywhere, we wrote a lot of little poetry pieces in that workshop.


The workshop consisted of several women, of all ages from different backgrounds. Some older than others, but we all had creative minds and ideas when it came to poetry. Tanya was very welcoming and was open to all ideas. She had a great vibe and understood that sometimes we didn’t want to share our poetry, which was a great sigh of relief. Whether it was a piece in the making or we thought it was a bad one, Tanya understood how important sharing a piece was.


Every exercise we did lasted roughly 3 minutes each. We did many of them; freestyle, crossing out lines from her own poem and making it our own, and using the parts of a bike to make literal bike poetry. Confused about what I am talking about? We got a picture of a bike with all the bike parts on them and we chose three parts. I chose the brake, pedal and shifter. I used these words and made my own ‘bike poetry’. An example of a line that we created was to “Pedal away from your problems…”.


After doing a couple exercises, we merged them all together. We used lines from our pieces created in our activities to create a mega-piece that we were proud of. After that, Tanya did some performance exercises. Everyone was nervous to perform, but we did an exercise where you are handed a slip of paper that says “perform like a sportscaster” or “say your piece to the tune of twinkle 

twinkle”, and at the same time, everyone says their pieces so you can practice your performance but not have the anxiety of being in front of everyone and saying your piece.


Near the end, Tanya introduced each participant and we showcased our poetry to the rest of the group. Folks who  were uncomfortable with the idea of sharing their poetry (or even just writing poetry!) were now sharing their pieces and smiling from the wave of applause and positivity from the group.


All in all, the workshop was a very fun experience and Tanya did an amazing job hosting. Hearing her pieces and what she had to say about Bike Poetry and Poetry in general was fantastic. I enjoyed hearing the pieces and art that everyone created during the workshop. You’d think Charlie’s Freewheels was all about bikes only, but hey! They have awesome poetry and art workshops as well!

My Experience Working at Charlie’s Freewheels

Written by Fatheha Rahim, Program Assistant



I first starting coming to Charlie’s FreeWheels as a participant in the Girls & Trans Build-A-Bike Program last fall. Joining the program allowed me to experience and develop new skills that are completely different from anything that I’ve done before. Developing these skills prepared me for the opportunity to work at Charlies as the peer mechanic for the March break Build-A-Bike class which was pretty awesome and something that I was so excited about. Admittedly though, I was a little nervous to take on this position because I had to use the skills and knowledge that I learned from when I was a participant in the program and now help out other youth who were working on bikes for the first time.


    A challenge that I faced working as the Peer Mechanic was being able to clearly explain how to do something to participants who had trouble understanding the steps involved in each activity. The hard part about that was I had to find different techniques to explain things depending on their learning style, which was quite difficult. However, during the March break program I learned so much more about bikes and I was introduced to different types of bikes other than just my own.


    After finishing up school for the year, I was offered the opportunity to work at Charlie’s again as the Program Assistant for this summers Build-A-Bike program. For the summer program, we have worked with 4 intensive Build-a-Bike classes and I feel so much more confident working in this position because I was able to gain experience and training having already taken the class, and worked as Peer Mechanic in March.  


    I realized I was able to overcome the challenge of having a hard time explaining steps on how to fix something on a bike. I believe that is because I’ve gone through four classes doing the same thing over and over that things have just become easier for me to understand for myself and to then explain to others as well. Every class I was able to learn something new and everything just became a little easier each time. I’m so glad I was able to spend two months of my summer working at Charlie’s because it was such a great and fun experience. I was able to meet new people and develop my own skills and knowledge even further. I definitely can’t wait to get the opportunity to work here again in the future!

First Summer Build-a-Bike Graduation Ride of 2017!

Written by Fatheha Rahim, Program Assistant

July 14th, 2017 was the last day of our first summer Build-a-Bike class.  To celebrate we decided that it would be fun to take the graduation ride to the new park at Ontario Place. Many of the participants were thrilled and excited to go on this ride so our Youth Cycling Instructor, Tim, had planned out a route to Ontario Place using bike lanes as much as possible to ensure that our participants felt confident and safe riding on the road. This gave our participants the ability to ride around the busy streets of downtown Toronto while also enjoying the beautiful sceneries that we passed by on the ride.

Once we arrived to our destination, everyone was so astonished by how beautiful the area looked as we rode our bikes by the water enjoying the lovely view of the lake. On our way back from Ontario Place we experienced a real world flat (unlike the practice flats we worked on in class!) as Ayden noticed that their tire was deflating while they were riding. We all got off our bikes onto the sidewalk to see what the problem was and we determined that there was a puncture in the tube. Using the knowledge the group had gained on how to fix a puncture through our Build-a-Bike class, the participants worked together to successfully fix the flat. After that we continued our ride back to the shop filled with several fun memories and experiences from a great day!

Looking forward to the next three Build-a-Bike classes this summer!

Charlie’s Supporter Spotlight

Charlie’s FreeWheels is lucky to have so many generous and unique supporters. Our supporters engage with Charlie’s in a variety of ways, bringing with them unique skillsets and enthusiasm. Check out the newest addition to our newsletter, in which we’ll be showcasing supporters from the Charlie’s community.

Adam Popper, President of the Board

What made you want to get involved with Charlie’s FreeWheels?

When I started volunteering with Charlie’s, I was about to become a dad. I thought a lot about what kind of world I wanted my baby to grow up in. Charlie’s FreeWheels engages and empowers youth with bikes. I want my baby to live in a world where any young person who wants to experience the power and beauty of bicycles can do so, barrier free.

What’s your favourite thing about bikes?

Do I have to pick one? I’ve experienced an evolution in my relationship to riding bikes. When I first learned to ride, it was the feeling of accomplishment, just learning how. As I grew older, it was freedom. In high school, cycling was one way to express my environmental ethics. In university it helped me live on a tight budget. Now, it’s the quickest way to most of my destinations door-to-door. Through it all, it’s just fun!

Where are you looking forward to going on your bike this summer?

To my allotment garden on Leslie Street…if I’m lucky, after a hot summer rainstorm.

What are you looking forward to working on with the Charlie’s team in 2017?

Charlie’s has a wicked-strong foundation. We’ve been around for more than five years. In that last year, we’ve experienced a lot of change, with a new board and staff roles. I see this as an opportunity to take our mission further and help more people learn the joy of bikes. I’m excited to help Charlie’s launch a new strategic plan, to propel the team to new heights.

Cultivating Youth Leadership at Charlie’s FreeWheels

Since 2009 Charlie’s FreeWheels has been supporting young cyclists by teaching them how to build their own bicycles and ride them safely. Our programs are intensive and focus on building young cyclists by breaking down financial and social barriers while also empowering young people to explore bike mechanics and take ownership of their own transportation.

Graduates of the Build-a-Bike program have been returning to the shop ever since the beginning of the program to do what all cyclists love to do most: share their cycling experiences and  appreciation for their newfound independence with others. We’ve seen program graduates ride across Central America, become bike couriers, start bike clubs at their schools, become employed at bike shops in Toronto, and ride their bikes everywhere every single day.

In 2017 Charlie’s is building upon this success by creating more opportunities for graduates to stay connected with the program as Peer Mechanics, further developing their skills as bike mechanics and young leaders in the cycling community. 


Peer Mechanics are graduates of the Build-a-Bike program who serve not only as assistants in Build-a-Bike classes but also as mentors to new cyclists and bike mechanics.  Charlie’s has hired five Peer Mechanics already in 2017, one for every Build-a-Bike program offered so far this year.

Peer Mechanics Betty and Samira (pictured here) are two of the earliest graduates of the Build-a-Bike program. Betty and Samira have both grown as mechanics and cyclists since taking part in the program , bringing with them an understanding of and passion for bikes that they share with everyone accessing programs through Charlie’s. They are currently working for TurnAround Couriers and Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop.It’s through these new connections and opportunities that Charlie’s thrives as a resource for young cyclists in the city.

Charlie’s is so grateful for the support provided by our partners for these positions and would like to thank Bike Law Ontario and The Toronto Foundation for their contribution to making these positions possible over the next three years through the Charlie’s FreeWheels Future Fund.

For more information about the Future Fund and to sponsor our youth employees, please contact Interim Executive Director Alix Aylen (

Magda and her bike

Magda with her bike on graduation day, Fall 2016

“In Toronto, 65% of people who ride a bicycle to work are male, and 35% are female.
As a girl I wasn’t really encouraged to learn how to ride a bike.

But thanks to @charliesfreewheels my bike is my primary vehicle. Not only did I learn how to ride, I built my bike too, and all of my lessons were led by women mechanics + volunteers !”

–  Magda, 2016 Girls & Trans Build-a-Bike Class graduate

Magda participated in the 2016 Fall Girls & Trans Build-a-Bike program where she not only built her own bicycle, but learned how to ride it too! Before participating in the Build-a-Bike program, Magda had never ridden a bike, but now she uses the bicycle that she built as her main vehicle to get to where she needs to be and to explore the city.

Recently, Magda posted her own review and take on her experience with Charlie’s FreeWheels.

Thanks, Magda!

Photo’s from Samira’s Bike Tour From Costa Rica to Belize

Samira did it!  Graduate of the Build-a-Bike program, dedicated volunteer and Charlie’s Peer Mechanic, Samira rode with TDA from San Jose, Costa Rica all the way up to Belize City, Belize!  That’s a total of an astounding 2,200km.  Samira rode a mountain bike that she built up herself at Charlie’s in 2016.
Way to go, Samira!

Check out some of the incredible photos that Samira took during her travels.

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