Pedaling with purpose

Political Science major Lucas Beyer ’24 has given away more than 200 bikes to kids across the country—and he’s just getting started.

Lucas Beyer ’24 spent the majority of his childhood outdoors—whether it was pedaling a bike, skiing down a mountain, or running on his own two feet. He was a free-range kid before “free-range parenting” became the subject of heated debate on internet forums, and he loved it.

“It was like the jackpot of a childhood,” he said recently. “There wasn’t a name for it, it was just kids being kids.”

For years, Beyer has been pondering a personal mission inspired by his upbringing: getting kids off screens and outside. He wasn’t sure how to accomplish it until his sophomore year, when a friend passed through Boston on a bike trip from Maine to Florida. Immediately, Beyer knew what he wanted to do.

“It just connected for me: We bike across the U.S. and give bikes to as many kids as possible while teaching them how to be safe with them,” he recalled. “Biking is great for kids because it’s not just recreational—it’s a mode of transportation and a way to experience the outdoors.”

Two young people riding bikes on a snowy road

Beyer (left) and CycleService co-founder Seamus Galvin.

CycleService launched as a certified nonprofit in January 2023 and last summer, after months of planning and fundraising, Beyer and his friend Nick Clark put his plan into action. In just under three months, they biked 3,500 miles across the country, stopping in mid-sized cities in Tennessee, Colorado, and California to host community workshops. At each one, they gave away bicycles and helmets to 50 local kids, and partnered with a nonprofit in the area to teach them how to safely use and maintain them.

They chronicled the journey, and the people they met along the way, on a blog on the CycleService website. After their first workshop in Knoxville, Tennessee, Beyer described what it felt like to watch a young boy clambering onto his new bicycle, eager to get moving.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he wrote. “The tires rolled, and the brakes worked. For some reason, I thought we would never get to this moment to see a real kid riding a real bike. If just one kid out of the 50 today falls in love with the outdoors and lets it change their life as much as it did mine, the whole summer would be a success.”

Beyer and Clark’s cross-country trek began in Yorktown, Virginia, where they dipped their wheels ceremoniously into the Atlantic Ocean before heading west. A few things took getting used to—in Beyer’s case, it was the clip-in pedals on his new bike, which sent him toppling to the pavement on several occasions—but eventually the pair settled into a groove, spending long days in the saddle and stopping to check out local attractions, like a hidden waterfall and a “forest” made out of glass bottles. At night, they camped in public parks or behind churches, often ditching their tents to sleep under the stars. Everywhere they went, people wanted to know what they were doing, oftentimes offering them a free meal or a place to stay once they found out.

“The amount of people looking to connect with another human every day is amazing,” Beyer later reflected. “If you take the time to slow down and look up from your phone and just observe, there are all these interactions happening.”

A young girl riding a bike on a dirt track

At the community ride in Colorado Springs, 53 kids tested out their new BMX bikes.

When Beyer and co-founder Seamus Galvin were developing the CycleService model, they realized that the best way to serve kids in local communities was to partner with nonprofits who knew them best. For each of their four workshops (three took place during the ride, and a fourth was held in the fall in Beyer’s hometown of Buffalo, New York) the CycleService team worked with a local partner to plan and execute an event that catered to the needs of the local population. In Colorado Springs, that meant sourcing BMX bikes for young kids to use on a local pump track, and in Ventura, California, older kids received larger bikes they could use to commute to school, and lessons in mechanics and bike lane etiquette.

Funding for the bikes, helmets, and trip itself came from a variety of sources. Leading up to the ride, Beyer and Galvin raised just under $40,000 in donations and secured coveted partnerships with well-known brands like Schwinn, Clif Bar, and Patagonia, which hosted the CycleService team and other nonprofit leaders at a reception at its Ventura headquarters last summer.

The support allowed the young nonprofit to give away a total of 206 bikes and 550 hours of bicycle instruction in its first year, and Beyer believes it’s just the beginning. This winter, he and Galvin began planning for the next ride, which will follow a different model: Instead of Beyer and Clark riding alone, two guides will lead a team of four riders across the country, stopping at community events along the way. Riders will apply to join the team and be in charge of their own fundraising, similar to major athletic events like the Boston Marathon.

“In the next five years, our vision is for CycleService to become the premier cross country ride for a cause,” explained Beyer. “We want to grow it into something that’s a way for the whole outdoor industry to give back to kids.”

As he looks to the future, he’s also still processing the memories of last summer, whether it was eating hot chicken in Nashville, hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park, or riding alongside a gaggle of kids on a dusty pump track in Colorado Springs.

“I’m feeling really gratified and fulfilled about what we completed, but my head is definitely still spinning,” he said. “I’ll get these flashbacks at random points in my day and think ‘Did that really happen?’ Some of it feels like it wasn’t even real.”