Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Taking the wheel

Courtesy Run Brain Run

David Schargel is not one to sit idle. A decade ago, he created Portland Walking Tours, an inexpensive way for meeting goers to take a walk or a bike ride and learn more about Portland, Ore.

In recent years, client requests led to a new division of his company called Run Brain Run, which blends community service, team building and, often, bicycles.

Run Brain Run’s most popular offering is Freewheel, where teams build bikes for needy or at-risk children ages 9 to 13 who have never had a bike or who have lost their bike or had it stolen.

The program is a natural spinoff for a company that gives bike tours in a city that leads the nation in bike commuters.

Nike and the Green Meetings Industry Council are among the organizations that have used Freewheel.

As anyone who has assembled a bike knows, the process can be time-consuming and frustrating, so Run Brain Run builds bikes for its program and then partially disassembles them. The program is meant to be fun for participants, so Schargel tries to eliminate frustrations: “We don’t want people to spend all their time reading instructions,” he said.

Instead, after putting the finishing touches on their bikes, the teams create marketing slogans or come up with team cheers.

The project’s biggest payoff is its surprise ending. After bikes are built, typically in a hotel ballroom, doors are flung open, and the bike recipients run in. The children don’t know they are to receive a bike; the bike builders don’t know that the children are going to be on site to receive them. It makes for a moment of smiles, cheers and tears.

Without Run Brain Run to organize the event, Schargel believes that many meeting planners would probably bypass community service, understandable given the number of details with which they must deal.

“Sometimes, the easiest thing for a planner, in the end, is not to do community service,” said Schargel.

All Run Brain Run requires from planners is the answers to a few simple questions, and then “We can tell them, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take it from here,’” he said. “It becomes a very hands-off thing for the planner. I’m of the belief that it shouldn’t be that hard to do community service.”