“Trips for Kids gives city kids a ride out of town” features TFK Marin program, San Francisco Chronicle

September 01, 2014

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Almost every day, Marilyn Price gets on her Raleigh mountain bike and rides up one of the steep hills from her home near Mount Tamalpais in Mill Valley. Price, 73, has loved cycling since her childhood days in St. Louis. But it wasn’t until she moved to Marin County and rode up the peak that biking became a cause.

Awestruck as she looked down on San Francisco, Price had a life-changing epiphany: She wanted to make the experience available to others, especially kids such as those she helped as a volunteer at St. Anthony’s Dining Room in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Most of the kids there had not traveled outside the city.

Three decades after that hilltop moment, Price heads Trips for Kids, an organization she founded that has given thousands of kids their first outdoor biking experience. The group has 80 chapters in the U.S. and abroad, which she oversees as head of the nonprofit in San Rafael.

Thousands of rides

The Marin chapter alone has taken more than 20,000 teenagers on rides in the Bay Area and taught many of them bicycle maintenance and customer-service skills at the organization’s flagship Re-Cyclery thrift shop in San Rafael. There are two other Bay Area chapters, in Redwood City and Santa Cruz.

Price fell in love with biking in the Bay Area when she moved to San Francisco at 25, after graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in sociology. A year later, she married attorney John Price, and they raised two children in Tiburon.

She was a stay-at-home mom for many years before looking for jobs she could believe in. She worked six years for a recycling firm in Marin, and later for Huey Johnson, California’s secretary of resources under Gov. Jerry Brown. In 1980, she and her husband divorced, and in 1984 she moved to Mill Valley.

Two years later, Price founded Trips for Kids in her garage. She was taken by the mountain bike craze born in the late 1970s on the flanks of Mount Tam. She met famous local pioneers, such as Gary Fisher, a mountain bike inventor, and Jacquie Phelan, the three-time U.S. national women’s mountain bike champion in the 1980s.

In 1988, Trips for Kids incorporated. She needed bikes, so she went to a bicycle convention in Reno and persuaded four bicycle manufacturers to donate bikes for her budding cause.

“I learned how to run a business from scratch,” she said recently, sitting in her office above the Re-Cyclery.

At her home, she organized bike swaps — flea markets where bikes are bought and sold. She collected more than 100 bikes, which she stored in her backyard. Some neighbors complained that the bikes were an eyesore, but Price persevered.

“Once I had the bikes, there was no turning back,” she said.

Price ran the group from her home for a decade, with help from volunteers who drove kids to and from outings. She packed as many of them as she could into her blue Volvo station wagon and hitched eight bikes to the roof using donated racks.

As her vision came together, Trips for Kids opened a warehouse in San Rafael’s Canal district near a social services organization that helps the local immigrant community.

In 1994, Price opened a thrift shop in her garage, where she sold bicycles and parts. Its earnings, along with money from grants, enabled the organization to buy a house in downtown San Rafael three years later. It became the organization’s headquarters and permanent quarters for the Re-Cyclery.

The shop, run by paid and volunteer staff, is a colorful trove of vintage bike frames, donated clothing and dozens of bins packed with bike components — derailleurs, brakes, chain rings, wheels and handlebars. Last month, the shop sold more than 100 bikes to people going to the annual Burning Man event in the Nevada desert.

In 1996, Price was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Since 1999, Trips for Kids’ financial success has allowed it to open new chapters, in the U.S., Canada, Israel and Sierra Leone.

Changing lives

Some of the young people who have taken part in Trips for Kids credit the group for changing their lives. Price says that one boy told her the organization kept him from joining a gang.

Cesar Gomez is one of Price’s success stories. He was 11 years old when his family moved from El Salvador to San Rafael. Soon he was hanging out with peers at the Trips for Kids warehouse near his home. He fell in love with bikes and volunteered enough time to earn his first bike, a BMX.

Now 25, Gomez is a mechanic at Mike’s Bikes in Sausalito. He got the job after Price heard of an opening there and referred him for the position. A year ago, his employer sent him to a bike mechanic skills course at Specialized, the global bike company in Morgan Hill. He met superstars of the cycling world, including Mark Cavendish, a popular sprinter in the world’s top bike races.

Gomez said he can’t think of anything he’d rather do than work on bikes.

“It’s hard for someone young to find something they really love,” he said. “But this was a no-brainer for me. I never get bored of it. ... It’s like heaven.”

At the Trips for Kids warehouse on a late-August morning, Byron Gomez, 18 (no relation to Cesar) trained aspiring young bike mechanics. He said his work for the organization has taught him patience and inspired him to seek a career in mechanical engineering.

“When I learned to build wheels, I learned to be patient,” he said. “And I really like building wheels.” A recent high school graduate, Byron Gomez is enrolled at nearby College of Marin.

One of Price’s fondest memories is a Trips for Kids ride up the Old Railroad Grade trail on Mount Tam. One of the riders, a boy named Albert, was struggling dearly to get to the top. He finished after adult volunteers took turns pushing his bike up the mountain. A photo in Price’s office shows the boy beaming at the trail’s end.

“Taking kids on bikes in these settings is a winning combination,” she said. “I don’t exactly know what we teach these kids, but it works.”

datebookletters@sfchronicle.com

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