RIVER FALLS -- You witnessed a rare sight if you spotted Tyon “Ty” Edwards on foot in River Falls in recent months.

Bicycling is his preferred way to get around town. In fact, it’s his sole mode of transportation unless he’s getting a lift from someone.

“If he could, he’d ride sun-up to sundown,” his mother, Jenny Edwards, said. “His bike, to him, is like freedom.”

So when his once-trusty bike broke down months ago, Edwards and his family tried mapping out a plan to replace the bike, which they figured would run about $1,500. Edwards’ extra-large frame requires a super-sturdy bike, Jenny explained.

Before he took to foot travel, Ty tried navigating River Falls streets on what remained of his bike. One man, a retired police chief from Bloomer who was working construction in River Falls, took note of Ty willing the bike, twisted frame and all, forward along the streets.

That man, Richard Carr, passed along a sympathetic word to River Falls Police Chief Gordie Young, who reached out to Jenny.

That initiated a chain of events that would put Ty back in the driver’s seat last month. The 2017 River Falls High School graduate was the unwitting star of a surprise reveal that bestowed him with new wheels.

Lured in by a tale that the police department was in possession of his misplaced identification card — Jenny had secretly pocketed the card to complete the ruse — Ty arrived at the police station Oct. 25 to find a brand-new tricycle waiting for him instead.

“I thought he was going to fall down,” Jenny said of her son’s reaction to the moment.

A photo capturing the moment depicts Ty standing slacked-jawed in shock of the sight.

Tyon "Ty" Edwards reacts Oct. 25 at the sight of a new bike he received through the Francis Johnson Memorial Fund. Photo courtesy of River Falls Police Department
Tyon "Ty" Edwards reacts Oct. 25 at the sight of a new bike he received through the Francis Johnson Memorial Fund. Photo courtesy of River Falls Police Department

“I was like ‘Where’d this come from?’” he said with a laugh later, recalling the surprise.

Jenny said Ty, a 20-year-old River Falls resident with mild autism, will likely never drive a car.

Ty said the trike, a custom Husky-brand model with a custom seat, heavy-duty tires and spokes, is a perfect fit. And he didn’t waste any time getting accustomed to the new ride; Jenny said he logged some serious miles in the first week.

“To not have it bothered him,” his mother said. “It’s good to see him smile again and be happy.”

Ty said neighbors can expect to see him riding all over town, including to his job at Chartwells at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Money for the bike came from a fund established by UWRF employee Elise Koop. She first gifted a bike to the late Francis Johnson in 2017 through a Random Acts grant. He died in 2018, but Koop, who had befriended Johnson, wanted to create a legacy in Johnson’s honor that could help provide bikes to other community members.

“It is such an honor to be a part of this project,” Koop said. “While yes, I started the fund, I think the most rewarding part is seeing the community rally behind the people who are receiving the bikes.”

She recalled a message from her father-in-law telling her “kindness isn’t random, it’s essential.”

“There is nothing more true about each bike that has been given away,” Koop said. “Every person who reaches out to me wanting to give a bike away has such joy and excitement in the thought of surprising their recipient. It really is a showcase of this community’s heart for their fellow neighbors.

In spite of local donations, Koop said the fund is drying up. She wants to keep it going, but said she’ll need help from others.

Koop said it’s important for her to be able to keep Johnson’s legacy going and to present others with an entire bike — not just a smaller donation.

“He loved the art of biking so much that we will continue that spirit,” she said. “If someone needs a bike, we will get them the full bike. I am hoping we can continue this fund with help from those in the community who have seen the impact.”

Anyone wishing to contribute to the fund can go to First National Bank of River Falls, where checks can be made out to “Francis Johnson Memorial Fund.” Checks can also be mailed to the bank at 104 E. Locust St., River Falls, WI 54022.