Charlie's FreeWheels

Charlie’s FreeWheels offers a Build-A-Bike program that teaches bicycle mechanics to youth. The program is free for participants, and gives youth the opportunity to build their own bike by refurbishing a used one. At the end of the program, participants get a new bike, accessories and the necessary skills to safely ride and maintain their bikes.

Youth Bicycle BuildOur Impact Why We Exist

“[My bike] makes the city seem as if its smaller, so everything’s closer to me”

- Past Participant


We are on a mission is to inspire a spirit of exploration in the youth we work with. We envision bicycles as drivers for personal growth and positive social change. We have observed that bikes liberate their riders and expose young people to new opportunities.


We aim to support the development of empowered young leaders, to build on the strengths of the community and to become a central resource for youth to engage with cycling issues in Toronto.

Our Story What We Do


Charlie's FreeWheels began in 2008 in memory of Charles Prinsep, a friend who was killed on a cross-continental bike tour when he was just 23. A group of dedicated volunteers renovated CFW’s current programming space in 2011, and Charlie's FreeWheels now splits this space with a bike shop, called Charlie’s Bike Joint. Charlie's Bike Joint donates profits to the Charlie's FreeWheels' programming.

Charlie's FreeWheels became a charitable partner of the Regent Park Community Health Centre in 2014. We’re looking forward to working together to achieve shared goals.


Since CFW began, over 330 young people have built bikes and twenty youth have been provided with part-time employment through our initiative. We have taken young people to make deputations at City Hall, and we have curated a cycling exhibit at the Urban Space Gallery in 401 Richmond. Charlie's FreeWheels has recently welcomed three past participants onto the Advisory Board that governs programming and development.

We have been featured on high profile media sources such as CityTV Breakfast Television, CTV local news, The Sun, Toronto Star, and dandyhorse magazine.

Charlie's FreeWheels is in great hands. The Regent Park Community Health Centre has excelled as an organization supporting young initiatives. The Health Centre started the now nationally acclaimed program, Pathways to Education TM.

Our Programs How We Do It


“...although children and youth registration in City recreation programs continues to grow (6.9% since 2011), the percentage of youth (ages 12-19) who are inactive during leisure time has jumped to 40.5%” (p.19)

CFW succeeds at getting more young people on bicycles so they can experience the health lifelong benefits of active transportation (e.g. lower likelihood of diabetes or obesity). In a sample of 20 past participants from CFW, 70% reported using their bicycle to get to school six months after completing our Build-A-Bike program. In comparison, Toronto’s cycling mode share is 2.2%

Charlie's FreeWheels' is all about bikes, and the opportunities that they bring.  Young people from Regent Park are invited into an expansive collection of programs.  Once students build a bicycle with us, we offer them new incentives to participate in other programs. This way, young people have the opportunity for prolonged, personal engagement with CFW so they may continue to build even more diverse skills, experiences and relationships.

Our programs include:

  • Build-A-Bike: A course that teaches young people to build & ride bicycles
  • Earn-A-Bike/Drop-In Hours: Flexible time for young people to maintain their bicycles where they have open access to programming space and tools.
  • Charlie's Rides: A group ride for young cyclists to practice safe cycling skills and to discover/explore Toronto together.



The Build-A-Bike program accommodates eight participants, each of whom complete the program with a bike they’ve built themselves, a new lock, a helmet and the skills and tools they need to safely ride and maintain their bicycles.

Program Impact:

According to the data provided by the Census Profile (2011) for Regent Park and Moss Park, over 80% of residents are visible minorities, and for many, English is a second language. Of the 825 families residing in the neighbourhood, 270 are single parent households and 215 have two or more children. Few families earn more than $18,000 per year, less than 1/3 the national average.

The cost of a teenager’s use of public transit is a heavy burden for families with low annual incomes: a student metropass costs $108.00/month, which translates to 7.2% of a family’s annual income. Families are further hampered by transit costs if there are two or more children living in a single dwelling.

Charlie's FreeWheels recruits students through local service agencies and homeless shelters for youth.

Earn-A-Bike/Drop-In Hours


During this time, youth have access to tools. They may ask a mechanic about how to tune up their bicycle (or their family and friends’ bikes). Drop-In Hours serve as a time where young people may get community service hours teaching their friends to build bikes, doing administrative work or helping around the shop. This is an informal time that helps solidify friendships and build feelings of belonging

Program Impact:

A qualitative report was co-published by University of Toronto and RPCHC to document the impact of CFW programming. In this study, when asked about the financial impact of having a bicycle, one respondent (who had only lived in Toronto for three months) said:

“The thing is that, it’s very good for us…like, for me, I don’t have a job…like my mom pays me, and I get money for that so, just for say, my bike, it’s got broken for some reason…if I go to the store, it’s going to be at least like, minimum, $20 right? So, for newcomers, $20 is like…if you change the currency, is more than 1000. For me, if I take $20 and sell that money back home, I am going to get like, 1600 or something.

Interviewer: Okay, and what can you buy with 1600?

Participant: You can get a bike for that… And so, here, it’s pretty expensive.

When asked about where this student goes one his bike, he mentioned essential trips:

 “On my new bike, of course school…and shopping…groceries, of course, groceries. And then for like, even just biking…just roaming around…to the park, you know? Cherry Beach…I go to Cherry Beach with my friends…”

Charlie’s Rides


Charlie’s Rides are group rides that take students out to Toronto’s bicycle path network. The program allows our staff to practice on-road safety with students, and provides another entry point for students who haven’t gone through the Build-A-Bike program (i.e. friends and relatives who already had bikes at home). Riding in groups builds confidence in new riders, and for newcomer youth, it is a great way to explore and discover the city with supportive group of friends.

Program Impact:

"Biking for most people means exercise but to me. To me, it means a place of relaxation where every second I am peddling and I am erasing my worries away. How to be stress free? Get on your bike, then ride your bike to a safe trail, and then you should think about something that’s bothering you. Start peddling hard, fast, and let all your worries go with the wind."

- Past Participant

Program Partners

Funding Partners:Toronto Foundation, CIBC, National Bank, Metcalf Foundation,  The W.C. Kitchen Foundation, The Bulldog Trust, Charlie's Bike Joint, The Ontario Trillium Foundation, The Laidlaw Foundation, Toronto Bicycling Network, Rotary International, MEC, Chawker's Foundation, Energy@Work

What You Can Do

Donate to get young people where they need to go

For only $615, a young person gets to keep the bicycle that they have built, along with a helmet, lock, lights, and the skills they need to safely ride and maintain their bicycle for years to come. It costs Charlie's FreeWheels $5,600 to put a class of 8 students through a 9 week program. Students will learn skills to continue to maintain their bicycles well after they finish our programming. They will have access to Drop-In Hours, and they will also be invited for Charlie's Rides to practice safe riding skills that they learned in class.

Volunteer with us!

We need financially savvy volunteers to help us plan strategically for growth in the future. 

Volunteers can assist by securing bicycle donations and in securing in-kind donations of bicycle parts, food & refreshments and other materials. In class, volunteers are needed to assist with mechanical teaching, cooking, and with documenting the program.

Charlie's FreeWheels has a small team of staff and so we depend on volunteer fundraisers.


Katherine McIlveen-Brown
Executive Director
Charitable Number: 125272211RR0001


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