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Two Springfield Bicyclists to Bike Across the US, Build Affordable Housing During the Summer

credit: Sam Crowe

May is National Bike Month. In the next 31 days, Springfield will play host to the “Bicycle and Brews” event at the downtown square, a bicycle film festival at the Gillioz Theater, and Ozark Greenways’ Bike to Work Week. To kick off bike month, KSMU’s Samuel Crowe has this story about two Springfield men who’ll be bicycling across the country this summer to raise money and awareness for affordable housing.

Matt Hartman is a 25 year old graduate student at Missouri State University, and he teaches at Pershing Middle School in Springfield. Hartman graduates in 16 days and in June he’ll depart for Portland, Maine, where he’ll embark on a 3,900 mile trek to Santa Barbara, California as part of a non-profit organization called Bike and Build.  So to find out more about Bike and Build, I joined Hartman for a bike ride, along the Galloway Creek Greenway in Springfield.

“They put on cross-country cycling trips. They currently have eight, and they’re made up of about thirty people per group, thirty young adults between the ages of 18 and 28. They spend two and a half months across the country, and they stop at local affordable housing build sites along the way,” Hartman said.

At these build sites, each rider will help construct houses for families in need. And during the summer, each rider will give a presentation based on research of a certain town’s affordable housing situation. It gives each rider the chance to interview members of local housing organizations, as well as a family who’ll be living in these newly constructed homes. Hartman says a part of what drew him to Bike and Build was realizing how dismal the Affordable Housing situation is.

“I don’t think there’s a single county in the United States that you can make minimum wage and get free market rent value. So whatever geographical area you’re in, the average of whatever the rent is in that area, you can’t pay that for a one bedroom house, in any county, if you’re making minimum wage and working 40 hours a week,” Hartman said.

Hartman’s route will take him across the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania, across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to Saint Louis. Riders sleep inside churches and community centers, many of which provide meals for them at no cost.  In Saint Louis riders will parallel the historic US Route 66, arriving in Springfield In mid-July to spend a day building homes with the local Habitat for Humanity. Then they’ll ride west to Joplin for a two day build.

Hartman and his fellow riders will average about 70 miles a day over the course of the summer, with only three days off. So how’s his training coming?

“Bike and Build requires you to log 500 hours on your bike. So what I’ve been doing , basically whenever we have warm days I try and ride quite a bit. I’ve been trying to find routes with pretty big hills. So sometimes I go out east of town,” Hartman said.

But Hartman admits he’s not ready to ride up mountains just yet. But he’s also been working hard to raise funds for his trip. Bike and Build requires each rider to raise $4,500 before the start of orientation. About 85 percent of that money funds affordable housing projects across the country, as well as a new road bike and official Bike and Build jerseys for the trip. Upon completing the route, each rider gets to keep his or her bike.

Hartman says in order to raise the funds, he had to get a little creative.

“Lots of little things here and there. We just had a benefit concert the other night. We actually had a dodge ball tournament that was a lot of fun. Local restaurants will help out, and give you a percentage of sales,” Hartman said.

Hartman says he’s raised $2,700 so far, 60 percent of his goal. A portion of Hartman’s fundraising was done with his friend Kyle Flannigan, a 2011 alum of the Northern route, which took him from New Hampshire to Vancouver.

"We started off in New Hampshire, so we immediately hit the Adirondacks, so it was just mountain like crazy. I remember at one point, we had a little cycling computer we had to keep on our bike, and I remember I was biking as hard as I could, and my heart was just pounding. And I remember looking down at my cycling computer, and I think it said two and a half miles an hour, and I was like 'Someone could be walking past me right now.' I wrecked not too long after that because I couldn't unclip my feet fast enough to set down, and I just fell over," Flannigan said.

This summer, Flannigan will help lead the Central route, from Virginia Beach to Canon Beach, Oregon.

“This is something I want to give back to, because leading has been a lot of work so far. We have to find a place to stay every seventy miles. We have to get food donated. Just all of the small, logistical things. But I had such an amazing experience, I thought I’d like to be able to give back to that organization and to other people to have that same experience,” Flannigan said.

Bike and Build riders focus heavily on bicycle safety, and Flannigan admits there’s a certain amount of risk involved with bicycling cross-country. But he says the risk is worth the adventure. So to encourage more people to ride bicycles, they help promote bicycle safety in the communities they visit.

“We also offer bike clinics for kids. So they’ll get all the neighborhood kids together, teach them about bike safety, and give out helmets to them,” Flannigan said.

Flannigan will set out from Virginia Beach in late May, and Hartman will start riding in mid-June. Hartman says another dodge ball tournament and benefit concert might be in the works. But for now, he’ll keep riding whatever hills he can find around Springfield, as well as encouraging others to consider riding for Bike and Build during the summer of 2014 and beyond.

“Just the idea of spending your summer, getting to see so much but also do so much, getting to help out with that kind of a cause,” Hartman said.

Both riders encourage anyone to consider Bike and Build. They say that many riders have little long distance cycling experience, and choose Bike and Build moreso for the home building aspect. They say a cross-country trek may seem daunting to some, but with the right amount of preparation and training, the trip can be accomplished by anyone who sets their minds to it.

Anyone interested in donating on behalf of the riders, click the links below:

Matt Hartman's Bike and Build page.

Kyle Flannigan's Bike and Build page.

For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.