The San Francisco 49ers football team lost a close game by only one point Sunday, but it was enough to send the faithful into a panic. The dynasty-in-the-works got sacked by upstarts from Carolina, though which one -- North or South -- is of no concern after the disaster.

But all was calm, cheerful and even charitable in at least one corner of 49er Land the day after.

Looking rather ordinary without their helmets, body armor or ferocious game faces, several players showed up in a temporary tent to perform the final assembly of 49 new bicycles for low-income kids in Silicon Valley.

"It's cool and I'm having a lot of fun today," said offensive tackle Carter Bykowski. "It's for a good cause, and it's fun to build things with my own hands."

Lawrence Okoye (98), of the San Francisco 49ers, and Lloyd Dyer, chief operating officer of Optum, put together a bike at the 49ers’ training
Lawrence Okoye (98), of the San Francisco 49ers, and Lloyd Dyer, chief operating officer of Optum, put together a bike at the 49ers' training facility in Santa Clara on Nov. 11, 2013. (Gary Reyes/Staff)

He was putting together tiny, one-speed BMX bicycles for Turning Wheels For Kids, a San Jose-based charity that has given about 20,000 new bicycles to Silicon Valley children over nine holiday seasons. The lucky kids were chosen by local community organizations familiar with their families and financial situations.

Like any savvy charity, Turning Wheels has learned the publicity and fund-raising value of getting celebrities and corporations to help.

The 49ers have built bikes for Turning Wheels before, starting back in 2006 when Alex Smith was their quarterback, not that the Kansas City Chiefs, his new and undefeated team today, signed him for his bicycle-building talents. But never mind.


Advertisement

For a few hours Monday, athletes, executives and 49ers communications employees genuinely enjoyed the chance give children a bicycle for the holidays. Although players did not autograph the finished bikes, the kids will learn that team players assembled them.

"Every kid wants a bike," said Andrew Sekel, CEO of Optum Specialty Networks, a health services company and co-sponsor of the bike build. "But the bike is not as important as learning that adults do care, that people want to help."

Sekel nodded toward a 49ers player who pumped up a tire and spun it for good measure.

"The kids will know who built their bikes, 49ers, and they'll learn to appreciate the athletes for more than collecting big paychecks."

Several bike-builders talked about their own first bikes.

"Mine was blue," said Lawrence Okoye, a defensive lineman who grew up in London. "I used to ride it every where, but you have to visit Amsterdam, where almost everybody rides."

Donna Matney, a member of Turning Wheel's board of directors, recalled her first bicycle lesson.

"A dog chased me and I got stung on a thumb by a bumble bee," she said. "But here I am building bikes!"

Eric Young, a rider with Optum's professional cycling team, remembered the black mountain bike handed down to him by an older brother.

"I was six or seven," Young said. "Yeah, I remember it exactly."

Turning Wheels planned to give the bikes away to children Tuesday afternoon at nearby James Lick Mansion, accompanied by 49ers players, cheerleaders and staff, and Optum executives and cyclists. According to Matney, many of the kids will be receiving their first bikes.

Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767.