ELLSWORTH — Pulling into Ken Allen’s driveway is a bit like entering a bicycle graveyard.
“I’m a Gemini. I like to accessorize,” he said, somewhat sheepishly, after pulling up in a car stacked with bikes.
Allen, the founder of Pedal It Forward, started his bike rehabilitation operation in November. After being gifted a rare bicycle (a purple Masi Team 3v, a lightweight racing bike built in Italy in the early 1990s), Allen wanted to give something back.
He began by soliciting for bikes via Facebook, in what he refers to as a “cold beg.”
“If anyone’s got a bike, I’m going to sling them and give them away” was the gist of the first post, he said.
Despite Allen’s relative lack of social media connections, offers began coming in waves. He spent the next few weeks driving around the county, collecting dozens of bicycles in all manner of condition. Raleighs, Radio Flyers, Roadmasters, Huffys, Peugeots, Schwinns — the family’s garage soon filled with all kinds of steeds in need of mending.
Allen set to work. By Christmas, he had fixed up 39 bikes — inflating tires, unsticking head and seat tubes, oiling chains, replacing rims and cranksets. Rehabilitated bikes were then posted on Facebook, all free to the first responder.
“I’m stunned at how kind and giving people have been,” Allen said. “Everyone is happy to give you what they have.”
Months later, Allen is working on restoration of bike number 64. He has collectors around the region (some of whom he’s never met in person) who will stash bikes for him to pick up when he has time. The most he’s ever brought home at once on his little Honda? Nine.
“Two inside with their wheels off, one on the roof, three on the rack and three on the trunk.”
He’s given bikes away to children and adults alike, and dropped donated off wheels at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School.
“I got to play Santa’s elf a few times” over Christmas, said Allen (he wasn’t able to sell everyone on his elfishness: one young bike recipient “told me I didn’t look like an elf”). Partnerships with nonprofits have followed, including a deal with New York City-based Fedcap Rehabilitative Services’ local program to provide bikes to those who need a way to get to work, as well as with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, the Ellsworth Green Plan and Community Closet.
The New Hampshire-born Ellsworth resident estimates that he spends between $20 and $30 and upward of four hours working on each bike. He bids for spare parts on eBay or salvages from other bicycles that he determines are beyond fixing.
“It’s all of my spare time at this point. My wife is a saint.”
His own first bike was a Huffy 10-speed. Later he got into road bikes, and although he doesn’t get out riding as much as he’d like, Allen said he’s satisfied just fiddling around in his garage.
“It took me 42 years to find what I’m passionate about. I like wrenching on them, and I get to meet super cool people all the time.” He hopes to eventually incorporate as a nonprofit (and obtain a little more space) to expand Pedal It Forward.
But it isn’t just the tinkerer spirit that has kept the father-of-two going.
“It has changed the way I look at the world,” he said. “It’s made me more aware of the good in people.”