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As director of retail operations for Zane’s Cycles, Tom Girard loves collaborating with Guilford’s Roots4Relief on the charity’s annual Wishing Wheels Holiday Bike Drive. Donations are being accepted now to help provide brand-new Zane’s Cycles kids’ bikes (foreground). (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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As director of retail operations for Zane’s Cycles, Tom Girard has helped tie the Branford-based company into plenty of feel-good events. But he’s quickly learned there’s nothing quite like collaborating with Guilford’s Roots4Relief on the charity’s annual Wishing Wheels Holiday Bike Drive.
Roots4Relief established Wishing Wheels in 2017. This year, the bike drive once again has the support of Roots4Relief, Zane’s Cycles, Bishop’s Orchards Farm Market, and a growing list of donor families. Right now, the emphasis is on collecting funds of any amount, right up to a full donation of $165, which provides a child with a new bike and helmet. Bikes are delivered in time for Christmas giving.
This year’s goal is to raise $10,000. Donations are being accepted online through Roots4Relief.com or on Facebook (search “Roots4Relief”), via PayPal, and at Bishop’s Orchards Farm Market, 1355 Boston Post Road. The Wishing Wheels drive culminates on Saturday, Dec. 15 with a one-day bike build in Bishop’s Little Red Barn from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The build brings donor families together for some holiday cheer, music, hot cocoa, a toasty fire alight in the fire pit, and, of course, bike building.
The new bikes come in three sizes and are all Zane’s Cycles’ own brand of quality kids’ bikes.
“I am so excited for this year. We just took in the bikes. We have hundreds and hundreds waiting,” says Tom, adding, “...it’s our donation back at holiday time. Basically, it’s our cost [so] it’s a reasonable amount for someone to donate. And then a lot of our staff just volunteer because they want to help.”
Zane’s Cycles delivers boxes of bikes to be built from the Branford store to the bike-build location in Guilford, and provides expert assistance during the building process.
“We bring everything in boxes and volunteers start showing up—families with small kids to families with grandparents,” says Tom. “We help them build the bikes from scratch [by] helping them take it out of box, dispose of packaging correctly, giving them the proper tools put it together. And then it goes to one of my back mechanics at the end. So basically, quality control goes from the families to one of our volunteers to a mechanic to get the final check.”
But that’s not all that’s happening. There’s some holiday magic going on, too.
“It’s just a feel-good event,” says Tom. “Last year, I showed up smiling, and I left there smiling. For these families and their kids, they’re pulling a bike out of the box, building it, putting a person’s name on it, and it’s going to someone in need. So there’s a story through the whole thing, and it’s such a nice day. There’s a fire going out back, there’s cider, and it looks like a Santa’s Workshop in the barn, right down to the wood benches.
“At the end of last year, we were all standing out front with the bikes ready to be delivered, and it was such a nice feeling,” he says. “I’m actually going to take the majority of my staff there this year, just so they can feel it.”
The Roots of Roots4Relief
Tom credits the founding families of Roots4Relief for reaching out to Zane’s Cycles to collaborate on Wishing Wheels, starting in 2017. Roots4Relief was founded in 2016 by four parents of youngsters belonging to the Bishop farming family’s seventh generation (the DellaVentura and Healy families). The charity has the mission of kids helping kids through four seasonal projects each year.
Wishing Wheels was selected as the winter project thanks to dad John DellaVentura, who, as a kid growing up in Guilford, had experienced the power of giving new bikes at Christmas to neighbors in need. What seemed like his family’s simple act of generosity gave John a gift that’s lasted a lifetime: the knowledge that he, even as a child, had the power to make a difference in someone’s life.
When DellaVentura contacted Zane’s Cycles last year for help with Wishing Wheels, Tom answered the call.
“John reached out to us, and I basically explained that we were willing to help on our end [if] he agreed to make sure they go to the person that’s supposed to get them,” says Tom. “And he did a fantastic job at that. Just hats off to him. It’s amazing that they’re able to put that together.”
Tom was also able to give John a quick response thanks to one of programs Zane’s Cycles offers, its Kids Trade-In, Trade-Up program (as kids grow, their smaller bike can be traded in for the next size). Zane’s started up the program 15 years ago to help reduce the cost of upgrading to a new kids’ bike every few years, while providing a durable, safe, and dynamic bike to give growing kids the best riding experience (find more information at www.zanes.com). Not too long ago, Zane’s began offering its own brand of Zane’s kids’ cycles in the program.
“We started doing our own bikes about four or five years ago now, just because we were doing so many of them. So I can buy them in volume and design them and do the right specs on them,” says Tom. “These bikes are easier to learn on and easier to get yourself stepped up with the different models. There’s three sizes we have made, and for two of the sizes, it’s a full trade-in.”
As it turns out, the three sizes of Zane’s kids’ cycles models (12-inch Pine Orchard; 16-inch Stony Creek, and 20-inch Zane’s Original) are a perfect fit for the needs of Wishing Wheels, which gives bikes and helmets to shoreline and Greater New Haven area kids in need from ages 4 to 10.
“We decided to use those bikes for Wishing Wheels because the sizing meets a couple of different age groups that some of the other bikes don’t hit,” says Tom, who also tapped into his distributors for additional assistance in bringing down the price on the bikes to help out Wishing Wheels.
Looking Down the Road
A Norwich native, Tom says he has long considered Branford home thanks to his 27 years with Zane’s Cycles. Tom lives in Branford with his wife and their two children, ages 14 and 16.
Tom was hired by Zane’s founder Chris Zane to help out at his growing Branford business back when it was still located in a 900-square-foot window-front shop on Branford’s Main Street. From there, Zane’s Cycles moved to a much larger space on North Main Street before moving one more time, in 2008, to its current flagship location, built from the ground up, at 330 East Main Street.
Along the way, the company grew its corporate fulfillment programs and today also offers numerous outdoor lifestyle products, from pots and pans to fishing poles. About six years ago, Zane’s opened a second retail location in Fairfield.
“We’re a very large bike shop—one of the largest bikes shops in the country for such a small footprint, so [industry leaders] use us a lot for a resource,” notes Tom, who sits on a couple of national industry panels to help determine what’s trending in the world of cycling.
“It’s a time commitment, but you definitely get an early read on what’s going on,” he says.
What’s the next trend? The answer: “Electric bikes,” says Tom.
“Electric bikes, I think they said grew 400 percent over in Europe in last couple of years,” says Tom, where the bikes are a tool for many commuters. He notes today’s ion-lithium batteries can last 50 to 100 miles between charges, helping to attract more users in the U.S., especially in bike-friendly states like Oregon and others working to welcome bike traffic.
At Zane’s Cycles, “we went from five years ago selling 10 electric bikes a year; now, we’re selling hundreds a year,” says Tom. “And Connecticut is not as big as some of the other states that are really bike-friendly. They’ve done a great job in New Haven with bike lanes, but many of our roads weren’t built for bikes. Hopefully, as they’re doing roadwork, they’re taking that into consideration.”
That said, the shoreline is a hotbed for cycling action when it comes to charitable cycling events, such as the annual Closer to Free Ride out of New Haven, benefiting Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center, Hammerfest Triathlon in Branford benefiting Brian’s Hope, Madison Triathlon for the Madison Jaycees, Tour de Branford on behalf of Branford Community Television, and the Vista Tour de Shore in Madison benefiting Vista Life Innovations).
“There are so many rides that come through, and every ride we can help out at, we’re there, to get you going and out and safe,” says Tom, who also serves on the Board of Directors for Vista Life Innovations in Madison.
“All of us at Zane’s love to do the local events, and I personally love doing that, so I’m at most of the events,” says Tom. “I’ve been doing some of them 15 or 20 years now—out there at four o’clock in the morning at the Owenego or Madison Surf Club, setting up. It’s such a nice feeling to see that first triathlete finish that first tri. They’re just so happy at the end, and everything went great, and you’re there and you helped them with that. You either sold them the bike, or fixed it at the start, or you helped them with air; so you’re somewhat involved in that.”
As a shoreline business that’s been around nearly 40 years, Zane’s Cycles has touched generations of families, adds Tom, who spotted some of his customers at last year’s Wishing Wheels build.
“The families that donated came to build the bikes, and I knew some of them, so I met their kids, or I met their grandparents,” says Tom. “It was a cool full-circle moment for me. It was definitely a great feeling.”
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