Bikes, books and kids

Bikes, books and kids

photo: Will Campbell

photo: Will Campbell

by Devon Balet

There is a little known fact surrounding books and children in our country. In the United States, in low-income areas, there is ONE age appropriate book in the home for every THREE HUNDRED children. One in every 300. That number can be hard to grasp, especially if you have a background of books and reading growing up. However, the issue of literacy is a very real one.

The organization known as Ride for Reading is working hard to change this statistic by donating books to schools in low-income areas via bicycles.

“I was teaching fourth grade in Nashville in a high needs area and asked my students to read at night,” says school teacher and Ride for Reading founder Matthew Portell. “After giving out the assignment one student came to me and said a few words that forever changed my life and changed a lot of other people’s lives: ‘Mr. Portell, I don’t have any books in my home.’”

It is startling how many children in our country don’t have books. Portell quickly learned that this one student’s lack of books in the home was far more common then he thought.

“I decided to reach out to my local mountain bike community in Nashville. At first I just asked for books,” says Portell. “At first I was just trying to get books for my kids. Books started rolling in and then people started donating money. When the money started rolling in I thought, I could help more than just my kids. And that is when Ride for Reading came to life.”

photo: Will Campbell

It is amazing thinking that this all began in the basement of Portell’s home, working to make an impact on his individual classroom. Not realizing the potential, his little spark was filled by a ton of different people across the country. The organization Ride for Reading is now delivering books nationwide. To date they have donated over 400,000 books across the country. The organization has mobilized over 11,200 volunteers delivering books to 235 schools in 33 different cities!

The mission of Ride for Reading is a simple one: Get books into the hands of kids. Their mission is to promote literacy and healthy living by donating books via bicycle to children from low-income areas.

photo: Will Campbell

None of this would be possible without the actual books. Most of the books that Ride for Reading donates are community gathered. Bike shops, libraries and other supporting businesses will collect books that Ride for Reading then donates to schools.

The first week of May is National Ride for Reading Week, when hundreds of deliveries are organized across the country in support of Ride for Reading’s mission. This year we will be hosting a delivery right here in Mesa County. If you are interested in taking part, the delivery will be happening on May 10th to Lincoln Orchard Mesa Elementary. We will be meeting at Factory, 750 Main Street in Grand Junction, at 8:30am to load books onto bikes and be pedaling by 9am.

Things to bring if you want to help deliver the books:

  • A functioning bicycle, ready to ride
  • A helmet (this is a MUST!), and
  • A way to carry books (backpack, pannier, basket, rear rack, etc)

The delivery takes about two hours in total and the experience is sure to leave a lasting impact on you. Hope to see you May 10th!


Devon Balet was born and raised in Western Colorado, in Montrose. His passion for the outdoors was a torch passed down from his parents, growing up going on family hikes and camping trips. Devon grew up working at Cascade Bicycles, which proved to mold his future with bicycles. Devon has worked with Ride for Reading for several years, organizing book deliveries in Texas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. He is also a member of the City of Grand Junction’s Urban Trails Committee. 

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