In mid-November, Joe Golan sat in the tiny office area at his Bunnell shop anticipating the busy Christmas season ahead for the Bike Men of Flagler County.
Christmas Come True needed about 275 new bicycles. The used bike operation was in full swing. The Bike Men repair and rebuild about 2,200 donated bicycles a year.
The non-profit’s list of partners has grown to about two dozen organizations. The Bike Men provide bikes to the homeless through the The Sheltering Tree. They also provide bikes to recently released county inmates who have a job but no transportation.
They make biweekly trips to The Sheltering Tree, the Family Life Center and St. Augustine Youth Services to repair bikes.
“They have 60 bikes up there,” Golan said of SAYS. “They have four dormitories, and the boys rip up the bikes. We’re there every two weeks, repairing what they rip up.”
Sue Bickings, The Sheltering Tree's board chair, said Golan is very busy on the first and third Tuesday of each month when he sets up his portable shop in the parking lot at First United Methodist Church of Bunnell.
“People on the streets constantly need bike repair,” Bickings said. “Joe is well-known and well-liked by people whose only transportation is a bicycle. Joe will get us specific bikes we need. He finds them. He just goes above and beyond. He reconditions bikes for people who desperately need a mode of transportation other than walking.”
“Joe will get us specific bikes we need. He finds them. He just goes above and beyond. He reconditions bikes for people who desperately need a mode of transportation other than walking.”
— SUE BICKINGS, The Sheltering Tree's board chair
Golan got his start as “The Bike Man” in 2014 when he heard Christmas Come True founder Nadine King announce on the radio that the organization was short some bikes that year.
“I said, ‘I’ll go buy four bikes,’” Golan recalled. “I brought them down to her, and they were still in the boxes. They had to be assembled. She said, ‘Who’s going to assemble these? I said, ‘I’ll assemble them for you.’ She said, ’By the way, we have a few others that came in boxes. Do you mind sticking around?’ Well, that first year we did 87 bikes for them.”
Christmas Come True now provides Golan a list right after Thanksgiving, and Golan begins seeking donations.
The repair side of the non-profit had a similar beginning. Golan saw in an ad that The Sheltering Tree was looking for a bike. One of Golan’s neighbors happened to ask him if knew anybody who could use a used bicycle.
“I said, ‘Give it to me and I’ll repair it, and I’ll bring it down to them,’” Golan said. “When I got there, they said, ‘We’ve got a few others in storage. Do you mind sticking around and fixing a few more?’
“So, I bought some specialized tools, and I started buying parts and I was working out of my car and my garage at home,”
Eventually, Michele Seyfert, who runs the Our Father’s Table program through Palm Coast United Methodist Church, shared warehouse space with Golan, so he could set up a permanent shop with repair stands and pressers and a wide selection of tools. Seyfert nominated Golan for a Standing O.
“Joe is such an inspiration. He works tirelessly in his bicycle ministry seven days a week. He’s always there helping somebody. Saturday, Sunday, it doesn't matter. He genuinely just enjoys helping.”
— MICHELE SEYFERT
“Joe is such an inspiration,” she wrote. “He works tirelessly in his bicycle ministry seven days a week. He’s always there helping somebody. Saturday, Sunday, it doesn't matter. He genuinely just enjoys helping.”
Golan, who was in the electrical trade in New York City for 41 years before retiring to Palm Coast in 2010, said his wife feels like he puts in too many hours.
“We’re basically here five days a week, and maybe a sixth day if something warrants, maybe putting in six, seven hours a day,” he said. “So, I guess it’s a full-time job. I love it, especially when I’m working with the kids, seeing their faces light up when they get a bicycle or we repaired a bicycle.”
Golan has about a dozen volunteers helping him out, including mechanics, assemblers and transporters. Nobody gets paid, he said.
John Carbone, who is retired, has been working with Golan for two years.
“I guess it’s a full-time job. I love it, especially when I’m working with the kids, seeing their faces light up when they get a bicycle or we repaired a bicycle.”
— JOE GOLAN
“I dropped a bike off one day, and I liked what he was doing, giving to people in need, so I stayed, like a stray cat,” Carbone said. “I’m here three or four days a week, sometimes five. I like being busy.”
The Bike Men won’t give bikes out directly to people. They have to have a recommendation through a recognized organization, Golan said.
“If someone calls me, I tell them I need a referral. I don’t have the facilities to vet people.”
Golan would like to expand his space so he can teach kids how to repair their bikes.
“Our dream is we’d like to get a 4,000-square foot building where we cannot just run the bike shop but also provide to the community what’s called a bike co-op to actually have work stands for them to come in and work on their own bikes, and we can teach the kids bike mechanics,” Golan said. “We’re trying to work with the county and Flagler Schools to find us a space.”
For more information on The Bike Men, visit http://thebikemenofflaglercounty.com/index.html