A wheeled journey

By RANDI ROSSMANN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Alan Allen, a relative newcomer to Petaluma, is known as a volunteering force, doing everything from starting a bicycle giveaway program to organizing a citizen cleanup crew for recent vandalism.

Alan Allen founded Community Bikes Petaluma to provide bikes to those in need. (John Burgess / PD)

“He’s the type of individual who not only talks about some great things, but gets down and does it,” said Petaluma City Councilman Mike Harris.

“Alan walks in with that bouncing right off his shoulders, ‘Let’s get in and let’s do it,’” said Don Morshead, a real estate agent who works with Allen on the Community Bikes Petaluma project.

Allen is 44 and unemployed, but said he’s been putting his energy in recent years into community service. While he’s involved in multiple efforts, his focus is the bicycle program, which uses the irreverent slogan, “We put butts on bikes.”

“I’m on this kind of journey at this point in my life. It’s phenomenal; I totally love it,” he said.

He admitted that this part of his life is a departure from his earlier adult years, which included arrests and state prison for acts he said were fueled by a drug problem.

Allen grew up in Santa Rosa but moved to San Jose as a teen. “That’s where I started getting into trouble.”

Between 1996 and 2007, he was convicted of three counts of felony corporal spousal abuse and grand theft, according to Sonoma County court records.

“I’m not proud of it,” he said. “I am working very hard to put my past where it belongs, and that’s behind me.”

Allen said he’s been off drugs since April 2007. “When I got clean I really started noticing my lifestyle changing. My friends changed, my thought process changed.

“I started volunteering and seeing what an impact I could be in my community . …”

The father of four children, ages 12 to 29 — he lives with his two youngest children, his girlfriend and a stepchild — Allen started volunteering with movies in the park at Lucchesi Park in 2009. That opened his vision to other ways he could lend a hand.

Since then Allen has shepherded Community Bikes Petaluma at 312 First St., operating from a storage container in the industrial riverfront area just south of downtown. He seeks donated bikes, often unwanted, old and broken down. They are fixed up and given away.

It’s a sweat-equity program that makes tools available and offers lessons on repair skills.

“You get a bike, you work on a bike. We ask you to help us put a bike together for someone else,” he said.

About 50 bikes have been given away from April through August, he said. He’d like to give away 50 during the holidays, but needs to collect bikes and parts to make it happen.

Earlier this fall, when vandals tipped over several large pots holding young trees along Lakeville Street, Allen enlisted volunteers and local businesses to clean it up, although the city stepped in at the last minute to do the job.

“I was trying to rally the troops and make a difference,” Allen said at the time.

Councilman Harris said Allen began coming to council meetings a year or so ago, promoting the community bike program and other ideas for bettering Petaluma.

Allen’s enthusiasm earned him a council appointment to the city’s Petaluma Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Harris praised Allen’s steps to improve his life. “He has so much passion, he’s doing good work on all those fronts. We should all get behind his efforts.”