January 28, 2014

by Kristin Butcher

The Green Bay Packers host a bike parade for fans every year. (Image: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images, bleacherreport.com)

Every year, the Green Bay Packers? smallest fans join the players at Lambeau Field for a bike parade that has kicked off training camp since Vince Lombardi began the tradition more than 50 years ago.

Massive players mingle with the pint-sized crowd and prepare to make their biggest decision of the day: choosing which kid’s bike to borrow and ride to the first day of practice. After a half-century of this tradition, the kids are like seasoned flea market salesmen, holding out their bikes to show off how shiny or fast or loved they are in hopes of steering a favorite player toward their direction. When the players decide on a ride, a parade of football giants on comically small bikes with their tiniest superfans takes off. It’s not uncommon to see a hulking figure pedaling a 16-inch bike with streamers. It’s also not uncommon to hear about players maintaining relationships with kids they met through the bike parade years later.

It’s only a two-block ride from the locker room to the Packers? practice facility, but for the kids running along or hitching a ride on the back pegs as their favorite player pedals, it’s a ride that?ll last a lifetime. This bike parade on borrowed kids? bikes is a tradition unique to the Packers, but an increasing number of professional sports teams are developing their own team-building traditions involving bikes and kids.

The San Francisco 49ers handing out bikes to local homeless and at-risk youths. (Image: Optum Pro Cycling)

This past November, the San Franscisco 49ers partnered with nonprofit Turning Wheels for Kids and Optum Pro Cycling to hand out new bikes to 49 local homeless and at-risk youths. The professional football players and cyclists worked side-by-side building bikes and were on hand to surprise a group of unsuspecting children with early Christmas gifts that included a helmet and a bicycle-skills class to go along with their new bikes. For some of the kids, it was their first time riding a bike.

The Arizona Royals giving bikes they built to local children. (Image: Arizona Royals/MLB)

For the Arizona Royals, the surprise was on the team. As part of a team-building exercise conducted by nonprofit group Impact 4 Good, the professional baseball players divided into small groups and learned how to build bikes. After the exercise, the team was surprised by local children from the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Phoenix who had been selected to receive the bikes.

The Houston Texans use the players’ fines to buy bikes for kids during the holidays. (Image: Houston Texans)

Eight years ago, under former head-coach Gary Kubiak, the Houston Texans decided to turn a negative into a positive. In 2006, the team began putting the fines players accumulated throughout the year to good use and used the money to purchase new bikes for local kids during the holiday season. Teammates hand out bikes, sign autographs and pose for pictures with young fans.

?It’s really cool. Heck, you remember when you got your first bike when you were young,? Gary Kubiak told the Houston Chronicle. ?You see the kids out there grabbing onto the players. I think it’s a nice little break from football and the pressures of what we do.?

For most kids, the closest they?ll get to making the game-winning catch amidst deafening stadium cheers is in their dreams. But for players and kids alike, the opportunity to connect over something as simple as a bike can be a close second.

And a quick note, although PeopleForBikes? Super Bowl-bound home team, the Denver Broncos, do not have documented work with bikes and kids, the local bike sharing system, Denver B-cycle, has included an orange Broncos bike in their fleet of red rides. Not that we’re taking sides in the Super Bowl, but we think that’s pretty cool.

The Denver Broncos B-Cycle bike. (Image: Denver B-Cycle)

Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.

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