Orlando bike shop owners help get results for kids in need

Volunteers from Kyle’s Bike Shop ensure kids get a safe, reliable gift

ORLANDO, Fla. – They’re not exactly elves, but this group of Getting Results Award winners may be the next best thing.

Each year right before Christmas, Kyle and Christy Markel, owners of Kyle’s Bike Shop in Orlando, donate their time to help tune and repair donated bikes for kids in need.

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Under the glow of florescent lights the couple, along with a dozen or so friends, crowd into a garage in Baldwin Park.

Bikes spill out into the alley waiting to be repaired.

Kyle Markel tightens the axle nut on a beach cruiser. He’s just replaced the tube in the front tire and is about to move on to a mountain bike. That one will get new grips and a new seat. After that, a turquoise girls bike with a princess paint job.

One after another, bikes get checked out, tuned, repaired and ready for their new owners.

“It makes you feel good knowing you’re doing something for somebody else,” Markel said, over the hum of an air compressor.

The home where all this activity is happening belongs to Kathy Downs.

Each year Downs, a biking enthusiast, partners with the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, to collect gently used bikes for kids in foster care.

“These are children who are abandoned, abused and neglected. They’re in the dependency system,” Downs said. “Many of them are living with relative caregivers, foster parents or in group homes.”

Downs is a former Getting Results Award winner and has earned the nickname “The Bike Fairy” for her years of dedication to the project. This year, she collected close to 150 bikes, storing many of them at her home where her two-car garage begins filling up in February. They’ll be there until December.

“So when I started working on bikes, Legal Aid, which does all the guardian ad litem dependency cases for Orange County started calling me ‘The Bike Fairy’ because when they got a special request for a kid I would get the bikes,” Downs explained.

“Kyle’s Bike Shop and his crew have supported me for years,” Downs added. “I wanted to recognize them because I couldn’t do it alone. I can’t fix bikes. None of this would happen without qualified mechanics.”

She nominated the couple for the News 6 Getting Results Award.

“I don’t have thousands of dollars to donate and I’m not that good at raising money,” Kyle Markel said. “But the one thing I do have is time and I’m willing to donate it.”

Kyle and Christy are donating that time right before Christmas, when their shop is busiest. “This is a really busy time for us. New bike sales and the repair shop is even busy,” Kyle said.

Markel opened Kyle’s Bike Shop near downtown Orlando 16 years ago. Markel says the business has grown thanks to an emphasis on community.

Riders like Mike Caiazza were quick to help. “Kyle put the word out the other day saying I need some help,” Caiazza continued. “And everyone comes down.”

After the bikes have been repaired, Christy Markel organized them in rows and wiped down their frames. She said she thinks of the kids and young adults who will soon be riding them.

“They live in a world where they don’t have a lot of choices. And something that Kathy offers them is a choice. They pick out their own bike. It’s heartwarming.”

Kyle Markel pointed out that the kids in foster care usually have to leave their bike behind.

“You know the foster kids, when they leave their homes they leave with nothing,” Kyle Markel said. “Kathy looks for nice bikes. We call them gently used. She wants the kids to feel like they got a really nice bike and feel good about it.”

The group works into the night until each bike has been checked and is ready for the annual Guardian Ad Litem Bike Event.

“The things that make life meaningful are things like giving back,” Kyle Markel said. “Pay it forward.”

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About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.