RIDGWAY – After the death of their 2-year-old biking enthusiast this winter, Randy and Jen Charrette knew they wanted to create something to memorialize their son Axel and somehow extend his love of cycling.
“We thought it would be really cool if we could get more kids on bikes,” Randy said this week, following the official launch of the Axel Project. “Get the bike instilled in them at an early age, give them the freedom that comes with the bike, the confidence, the independence. These were the values we thought Axel embodied and that we wanted to further.”
And, since Axel was a master of his pedal-less Strider bike, a first bike for an increasing number of very young riders, the Charrettes reached out to Strider Bikes of Rapid City, S.D. “We were already loosely associated with Strider through Jen’s VeloMom blog,” Randy said. “Then [Ridgway friend and fellow cyclist] Brian Scranton contacted Ryan McFarland, who owns Strider, and his response was just two words: ‘We’re in.’”
Randy and Jen, who used to own Peak to Peak Bicycles in Ridgway, are both avid riders and occasional racers themselves. “We had a meeting with Strider two weeks ago,” Randy said, “and they donated some Striders to seed the project.” The new nonprofit is off and rolling, and the Axel Project had a big coming-out presence at last weekend’s third RAT Fest, the biking confab in Hartwell Park, where the Charrettes put “a bunch of kids on balance bikes, riding over ramps and stuff,” Randy said. “It was great.” (Balance bike is the generic term for the ground-hugging, pedal-less, two-wheeled bikes appropriate for ages 18 months and up, though Strider has the potential to become the defacto eponym worldwide, like Frisbee or Kleenex.)
The Charrettes hope to get the bikes to deserving kids two ways: through donations to charitable organizations (they’ve already had talks with the Piñon Project in Cortez) who would distribute the bikes themselves, and through sales at events, like RAT Fest.
“With the Piñon Project, for example, we would supply, say, five bikes at $20 each. Retail is $100 a bike. One of those bikes would be an Axel Special model, which they could auction off to recoup their costs,” Randy said.
Individuals and organizations that would like to participate can apply on the Axelproject.com website.
Coincidentally, Jen and Randy and their other bike-phenom son, eight-year-old Kalden, were able to place a permanent, physical memorial to Axel in Weaver Park north of town recently. “Some colleagues of Jen’s said they wanted to contribute to a memorial bench in Axel’s name, so we were able to get Lisa Issenberg (of Issenberg Design in Ridgway) to design and build it. It’s got a little picture plague of Axel. It’s up adjacent to the single-track trails north of “the eagle,” Randy said. “You’ll see it.”
Kalden is living proof of the Axel Project’s contention that “biking not only builds confidence in young children but also improves health [and] is an outlet to express pure joy . . .” You can see it on Kalden’s face (on a recent VeloMom post) when he got to ride with retired Tour de France veteran George Hincappie, on road bikes, from Ridgway up to Ouray.