Do you remember your first bicycle? That’s the question Jack Hairston asks just about every person he meets—and he says the answer is usually a resounding yes! “I don’t think they remember their first toothbrush or first pair of shoes or first peanut butter sandwich,” Hairston says. “But they remember their first bicycle.”
Better known as “Jack the Bike Man,” Hairston has been a pillar in the West Palm Beach community for more than 20 years. His nonprofit gives away bikes to kids in need—and the holidays are his busiest time of the year. “We give away over 2,000 bikes at our Christmas party every year,” he says of his operation’s annual collection drive and repair efforts that could give Santa’s workshop a run for its money.
Hairston partners with other local charities to identify families that can benefit most from a new set of wheels. On the day of the party, hundreds of volunteers descend on the bike shop to help make sure each kid rides off on a bike tailored to him or her. “A bunch of elves are down in the loading dock area, and they’re adjusting seats and whatever needs to be done so the bike is perfect for the child,” Hairston explains.
Hairston says it all started one day in 1999 when he was sitting on his front porch, watching a young man falling off his bike. He realized the kid’s brakes weren’t working. “I knew how to do that, and so I fixed his brakes and told him to get out of here,” he recalls.
But there was no pumping the brakes on what would happen from that day forward. Word travels fast—especially among the kids in Hairston’s neighborhood, who continued to show up on his porch asking him to fix their bikes.
“It was an accident,” he admits. “I didn’t plan on this happening—I was retired and enjoying doing nothing.”
But he says he wouldn’t change a thing. These days, he enjoys educating kids on bicycle safety through his charity’s various programs.
In just a few months, Jack the Bike Man will move into a bigger workshop and programming space, thanks to a lead gift of $1.5 million from the Mary Alice Fortin Foundation. Until then, Hairston says his organization will continue helping those who need it most—one bicycle at a time.
“I’ve never seen anything as powerful as a kid’s smile when they get their first bicycle,” he says. And at 80 years old, it’s those smiles that keep Hairston’s wheels turning.