Cottage Grove City Councilman Bob Ehler is a man of few words. But his actions are loud and clear.
For the past three and a half years, Ehler has been donating his time and money to provide bicycles to Cottage Grove residents who are in need of a ride. He tinkers with broken chains and gummed-up gears, making repairs for free and keeping count with photographs stored on his phone and computer. This week, after a quick count, he has fixed and donated his 990th bicycle.
So, what does closing in on his 1,000th good deed feel like?
“It’s just something I do,” Ehler said after a pause, the statement followed by another long silence.
The only time he really speaks about his bicycle philanthropy is when he needs more bikes to fix. Such was the case in December when he made the push to give away bicycles for Christmas. Now, he has a waiting list.
The venture started on Facebook on a community group when Ehler saw a post.
“I saw a lady on a Facebook group who was going to give away a bike but it had to be fixed,” he previously told The Sentinel. “And I thought, ‘I can do that. I’ve been fixing bikes since I was a kid.’ So, I volunteered and the next thing I know, people were giving me bikes.”
It’s a simple system. People looking for bicycles or bicycle repairs can contact Ehler through the community Facebook group dubbed Pay it Forward. He keeps a list of those in need of bikes and then relies on the donation of bicycles through the same Facebook page to fill those orders. His list often various based on the current need. Last winter, he needed 24” girl bikes to keep pace with the requests coming in. Other times, mountain bikes top the list.
He’s dedicated a fenced-in area in his backyard to the effort where bikes hang from the rafters of a shop overhang and stand grouped in piles that make perfect sense to Ehler. Some need chains, others brakes, others handgrips. In December, Ehler estimated that each bike’s repair ran an average of $25; an amount that comes out of his own pocket.
Ehler doesn’t think it will be very long until he’s handed out his 1,000th bicycle—it could be weeks—but he has no intention of stopping and encourages people who are in need of a bycicle to contact him through Facebook.
While the cost of fixing the bicycles sometimes increases wait times, plans to continue providing rides.