On a sunny Saturday morning, John Contreraz hopped on a bike and rode for the first time since he was a kid.
The Billings grandfather brought his two grandsons, Cristian and Anthony Barth, to participate in the fifth annual Youth Bicycle Jamboree at Bitterroot Elementary. Contreraz planned to get his grandsons each a bike and to teach 5-year-old Anthony how to ride without training wheels. He didn't expect to get a bike of his own.
"Now I can ride with the grandkids," Contreraz said.
In all, 36 donated bicycles were given away Saturday as part of the Bike Jamboree sponsored by the Billings Yellowstone Kiwanis Club and The Salvation Army. Area bike shops and youngsters from Boy Scout Pack 10 pitched in to tune up the 51 bikes donated by the community. Bill Clagg, senior program director for the YMCA, helped organize the event, the biggest bike giveaway yet.
"The first year we gave 15 bikes away, then the next year we gave 18, then 21 and last year we gave away 27 bikes," Clagg said. "This has grown about 5 to 10 percent every year."
Minutes before volunteers loaded up the leftover bikes from the giveaway, a family of eight pulled into the school parking lot and each of the six children picked out a bike. The rest of the bikes will be taken to The Salvation Army, where they will be sold in the store.
Application forms to receive a bike were available at Billings grade schools and the Friendship House. One youngster couldn't find a bike his size Saturday, but no one else was turned away, Clagg said.
"It takes someone who has a passion for this to get involved and to help find the children who need the bikes," Clagg said.
This year, Clagg said the quality of donated bikes was extraordinary. Each bike receives a tune-up before it is given away.
Brittaney Case, an 8-year-old third-grader from Orchard Elementary, beamed as she rode along the BikeNet trail near Two Moon Park in her purple Schwinn.
"It rode good," Brittaney said. "I liked going through the tunnel."
Brittaney said her other bike was stolen and she was happy to get a replacement Saturday.
Cristian Barth, also 8, picked out a red and black, BMX-style bike.
"I've got the pedal brake and the hand brake, so I can make good skids," he said.
Mick Ohnstad, a Ward 4 City Council member and avid bicyclist, helped patrol the bike trail as about 20 youngsters rode from Bitterroot Elementary to Two Moon Park for a barbecue sponsored by The Salvation Army. Ohnstad, who also is a member of the Billings Yellowstone Kawanis Club, said the youngsters are so grateful for the bikes and for the bike path.
"There aren't a lot of sidewalks on the Heights, so the kids use the path to get to and from school," Ohnstad said.
The three Billings Kiwanis clubs each donated $3,000 to get the first two miles of the bike path paved several years ago. Since then, another three miles of concrete have been added to the trail, which extends from Mary Street to Mystic Park near the KOA Campground.
Another grandfather, Mike Aments, brought his three granddaughters to Bitterroot Elementary to pick out new bikes. The girls - Laura, Hanna and Makaila - are students at Eagle Cliffs Elementary and plan to use their new bikes on the bike path.
"I like it here, you barely have to pedal," 11-year-old Laura said.