UI and Urbana police officers giving away free bikes

The University and Urbana Police Departments are spreading Christmas cheer by giving away free bikes to those who live near on Friday.

The event will be held at the Urbana Public Works Department Storage Facility, 704 S. Glover St., from 10 a.m. to noon.

The Urbana Police Department started the initiative last December, and a second event was held in June to constructively utilize the large quantity of bikes that were being found and recovered.

Friday’s event is the first time the University Police Department will participate in the bike giveaway.

“We thought that this was a pretty worthwhile event for the community, so we felt that we would jump in with them,” said Sgt. Thomas Geis of the University Police Department.

The police departments will be giving away about 120 bikes free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Those interested are limited to one bike and must present valid identification proving their residency, Geis said. 

The majority of these bikes are usually abandoned, lost or stolen bikes that no one has ever claimed, Lt. Robert Fitzgerald of the Urbana Police Department said.   

“Rather than giving these bikes away for scrap metal or throwing them away, we thought of a way that we could give them back to the community,” he said.

Although the free bike giveaway is open to any Champaign or Urbana resident, the police departments’ main target audience is children.  

“We want to give the bikes away to the needy kids around Christmas time,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a lot of bikes that are in really good shape. We don’t want to get rid of them so we give them back to the community and to the kids who need them the most.”

The Urbana Police Department brings in volunteers to repair the bikes and make sure they are in working order and safe to give away, Geis said. During the free bike giveaway, police officers will register each claimed bike with a serial number so the bike can be easily returned to the owner if it’s ever stolen or lost again.

University police Chief Jeff Christensen, said once a bike is stolen, the chances of recovering that bike are slim if it’s not registered. Registering a bike allows the police department to enter the bike’s serial number into the national crime database, which helps officers confirm a stolen bike’s rightful owner.

Fitzgerald advises those who want free bikes to show up to the event early, because the police expect a big turnout.

“If you come out on Friday morning, you’ll see a lot of people trying to get bikes for their families for Christmas,” he said, adding that the event usually attracts an “overwhelming” amount of people eager to get their kids a bike for the holidays.

Klaudia can be reached at kdukal2@dailyillini.com.