Ella Cote, left, and her twin sister, Sophie, bring new mountain bikes Saturday from Busytown Bikes in Lewiston. They are among 51 bicycles taken to Auburn Middle School for students to ride in gym class. Ella and Sophie Cote are seventh-grade-students at the school. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Where to put 51 bicycles?

That’s the hill Christy Keep has to climb before post-pandemic students come back to her gym class.

The owner of Busytown Bikes is happy the problem is Keep’s and not his any longer.

Keep, the physical education teacher at Auburn Middle School, won a grant through the Riding for Focus cycling program. The money allowed the school to receive 51 specialized mountain bikes and 51 helmets for students.

“I couldn’t believe that I actually got it,” Keep said of the grant.

Keep and her husband, Matt, are avid mountain bikers and reached out to their local bike shop owner to see if he could assemble the 51 bikes. Busytown Bikes owner Frank Jalbert said he could.

“That was our donation to the kids,” he said. “We are investing in the future of cycling.”

But, like everything else over the past year, getting bikes into the hands of students is somewhat difficult because of COVID-19.

Jalbert could assemble the bikes, but had no room to store them. Keep had an empty boys’ locker room to store them in, but every time she made plans to go pick up a batch of bikes, she got word she was back in quarantine for being in close contact with a student or staff member who tested positive for the virus.

Fifty-one new mountain bikes obtained by physical education teacher Christy Keep through a Riding for Focus grant are stored in the boys locker room at Auburn Middle School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Bike shops are typically busy this time of year with longer days and warmer weather. Throw in a pandemic that has caused a huge demand for outdoor activities and bike shops like Jalbert’s and Rainbow Bicycle in downtown Lewiston are booming. Jalbert needed the space taken up by 51 bicycles.

Why 51?

“I was asked how large is my biggest class,” Keep said. “I told them 50 and they added and extra bike for me.”

The school athletic director, Dustin Chasse, picked up the third of four batches of bikes Friday and Keep put her husband, Matt Keep, to work Saturday because she was still in quarantine through the weekend. Seventh-grade twins Sophie and Ella Cote met Matt Keep at Busytown to help load them.

Along with the bikes, the Riding for Focus grant provided Christy Keep with training on how to get and keep students engaged in cycling. Keep would have been riding bikes during an all-expense-paid trip to California, but because of COVID-19, it was all by Zoom. “Seven hours of Zoom training. That was a long day,” she said.

The bikes are being kept in the boys’ locker room at the school. The helmets are still boxed and stored in the boys’ shower for now.

Matt Keep loads the last of 51 mountain bicycles into the back of his truck Saturday at Busytown Bikes in Lewiston. Keep was helping his wife, Auburn Middle School physical education teacher Christy Keep, transport the bikes to the school. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Keep applied for a grant from the Lewiston Auburn Children’s Foundation and received $600 for bike storage. Ideas are percolating, she said.

Now that Jalbert’s problem is Keep’s to deal with, the gym teacher holds no hard feelings.

“I am just so thankful for them,” Keep said about Busytown. “Because that was a lot of work putting 51 bikes together.”

“I just want to get kids on bikes,” Jalbert said.

So does Keep.

“I would love to start an after-school bicycle club,” she said. “Maybe an intramural program. But because of COVID, that will have to wait until next year.”

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