Freedom Machines Uses Bikes To Help People Overcome Addiction

By Britni de la Cretaz 05/31/17

The non-profit has already given nearly 100 bikes to people in recovery this year.

Person riding a bike on a forest trail.

A non-profit in New York is trying something different: bicycle-based addiction therapy. Six months ago, Chris Collins, Mike Romanoski, and Kannan Kristel started Freedom Machines, bringing bikes to people struggling with addiction. The three friends fix up bikes and give them to people in recovery so they have a mode of transportation, something they consider part of their “service work.” That humble mission has caught on—and expanded—quickly.

Now, through a partnership with the Council for Prevention and Glens Falls Hospital’s Center for Recovery, they lead “bike therapy” workshops with teens, taking them on miles-long rides to introduce physical activity as part of their treatment for addiction in what’s called the Challenge Program.

"I found that biking was a great stress relief," Collins told the Times Union. "It builds your confidence back up, it gives you a little self-worth when you're out there, and you get that sense of accomplishment."

People who regularly engage in aerobic exercise have been found to be less likely to misuse illicit substances, and research also indicates that exercise can be an effective intervention in treating problematic drug use. It stimulates the production of new neurons that can help restore the circadian clock, which becomes disrupted during active addiction. Not only that, it can offer a healthy outlet and alternative for managing feelings and emotions.

“I see people who not only feel better about themselves, but they feel better about everything,” Dan Cronin, an addictions interventionist based in Pasadena who uses exercise as an intervention with clients, told The Fix in 2012.

Despite the large number of adolescents who struggle with substance misuse or addiction, finding access to treatment—particularly affordable options—has been a barrier for many of them. “There really aren’t places for kids to go,” Samuel Ball, president and CEO of CASAColumbia, an organization that researches addiction and treatments, told US News.

The Challenge Program at the Center for Recovery is free for participants, as long as they have an adult who is able to attend with them (though this could itself be a barrier for some young people).

Freedom Machines has already given almost 100 bikes to people in recovery, providing independence and a sobriety tool to people who need it—especially because so many people who struggle with addiction lose their driver's licenses in the process.

“We’re in the business of changing people’s lives,” Romanowski told Spectrum News. “It’s what we do. I love it.”

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.