Community Spotlight: Juan Soto of Viva Bikes Austin!

“Getting a bike from a sad state into riding shape made me feel something special, like rescuing something discarded and giving it a second life, renewing its purpose.  That’s why I focus on bikes: they’ve changed my life.” 

– Juan Soto, Viva Bikes Austin!

Born and raised the Rio Grande Valley, Juan Soto moved to Austin in his late 20s to “find adventure.” He ended up staying in Austin, getting married, and starting a family. Together with daughter Lucero, Juan founded Viva Bikes Austin! in 2020. What began as a summer pandemic project to fix and give away 100 bikes to kids in Northeast Austin has grown into a 501(c)3 non-profit.

Read on for more of what it was like for Juan to launch this project alongside his daughter, his tips for biking around town with kids, and details on how you can support Viva Bikes Austin!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My wife Luz and I have three awesome children, Lucero, Lucian, and Lucas.  We also have two dogs, Sandy and Peaches, both rescues.  We live in N.E. Austin and spend most of our time in this area.  I started working on bikes shortly after my initial move to Austin in 2009, when I bought a bike at a thrift store in bad shape, and slowly started bringing it back to life with the little tools I had.  That’s where my inspiration and passion for bikes began, and I continue working on them to this day.  I had always been a tinkerer, but for some reason working on bikes felt different than anything else.  Getting a bike from a sad state into riding shape made me feel something special, like rescuing something discarded and giving it a second life, renewing its purpose.  That’s why I focus on bikes: they’ve changed my life. 

How and why did Viva Bikes Austin! get started?

Viva Bikes Austin! started initially as a summer project that we called 100BikesForKids.  In 2020, during the pandemic, my kids and I were spending a lot of time together at home because of the shutdown, and one day my daughter and I were sitting by our kitchen window watching people and kids go by.  This sparked a discussion about how there’s lots of kids that didn’t have a bike, and probably were stuck at home bored, with not much to do. 

Lucero and I decided to do something about it!  We asked around if anyone had unwanted bikes, and we managed to collect a few bikes in bad shape.  We fixed them up and gave them away to kids in our neighborhood.  Somehow word spread through social media, and before we knew it, we had another group of 10 bikes in need of repairs sitting in our front yard. This kept happening again and again.  We gave ourselves a goal, that at the end of the summer we would try to fix and give away 100 bikes.  That’s when the project 100BikesforKids was born!  In no time we were well past our goal of 100 bikes. 

With the support of our community in N. Austin, our project began gaining traction.  We decided to keep the project going, and it became what is now Viva Bikes Austin!, a 501c3 nonprofit, all born in our front yard.  We still collect, repair, and distribute bikes to kids in underserved communities here in Austin, but we also celebrate the bicycle and the life changing effects it has on society!   

Why is kids’ access to bikes so important? 

Bicycles have many positive effects in the lives of children.  For me, bikes were a tool for exploration and freedom.  I still have vivid memories of riding with my brother, on dusty paths, having fun without a care in the world.  However, bikes can also serve as a tool for transportation to get kids to and from school, or for exercise.  They’re also great for getting to the grocery store, for hanging out with friends exploring local parks, as well as for environmental reasons.  They are green, sustainable, recyclable, and more importantly really, really fun to ride!

 Now as an adult, bikes continue to positively affect my life through Viva Bikes Austin!

Viva Bikes Austin! founders Juan Soto and daughter Lucero pose seated with several of the bikes they repaired.
Viva Bikes Austin! founders Juan Soto and daughter Lucero.

Viva Bikes Austin is run by a “father and daughter” team. What does that collaboration look like day-to-day? How does it feel to work with Lucero on this vision? 

Lucero and I are co-founders, and it’s an amazing feeling having started this project together as a team and seeing it through side by side.  She’s now in middle school, so studies, band, sports, and all her other extracurriculars takes up most of her time, but she’s still participating at our events, promoting and talking to kids about what we do and how it helps the planet.  She’s always sharing ideas on how we can better reach kids, and as her confidence has grown, she’s also began giving presentations at our events!  I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this project.  Lucero is an amazing, genuine, and kind-hearted girl, who loves to talk to and help kids.  

What are your dreams for your children’s generation in terms of equitable, safe access to bikes and family-friendly biking infrastructure in Austin?

My dream is that if Lucero, her peers, and eventually their own families want to get on a bike in the future, there shouldn’t be a second thought or second guess. Currently there are many worries for young people and families who want to ride their bikes, including concerns about safe paths, motor vehicles, and especially lack of awareness and respect for cyclists.  My hope is that with initiatives like ours and others, kids will consider riding their bikes instead of a car, and feel safe doing so. 

Do you have any tips for parents who are looking to bike around Austin with kids but aren’t sure where to start?

The first step is to get on a bike and get rolling!  There are many paths around Austin where families can ride safely with kids.  Some of our favorites are the downtown boardwalk, and Walnut Creek Metropolitan park in North Austin.  They both have smooth, dedicated paths for cyclists with lots of cool things to see along the way.   

For those wanting to start out but who don’t have much cycling experience yet, we suggest just rolling around at a local park as a start.  Once the kids gain confidence and get used to riding as a group, they’ll want to go on longer and longer rides.  Eventually they’ll start to discover different paths, and move on to longer and more challenging rides.  That’s how we did it, and it’s been really fun for us riding together all around Austin!

How can the Austin community support the work Viva Bikes Austin is doing? 

To do what we do, we continue to rely on the support of the community here in Austin.  We still accept material donations like bikes of any size and parts, and also monetary donations to cover the costs of repairs, replacement parts, and all the logistics of our initiative.  As always, volunteers for our events are always welcome to help move, stage, and help distribute bikes.  

We are always looking to connect with people who can lend us their skills, especially in the realm of fundraising, grant writing, social media, and marketing.  We are still a small family operation, but are eager to grow and develop programming with the help of those that share our vision!  We can be reached via our website at vivabikesaustin.org, or email at info@vivabikesaustin.org.

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