Fall adventures with DC Youth Bike Clubs

This fall, we piloted Bike Clubs in two locations in ward 7, working with a group of 4th and 5th graders at Randle Highlands Elementary School and 9-14 year olds at Benning Park Recreation Center. Bike Club is an afterschool enrichment program in which youth explore their neighborhoods on bikes and combine biking with academic and team-building activities. The Randle Highlands Bikers and the Benning Park Smooth Riders (team names chosen by our students) rode all over town – we explored Anacostia Park, Fort Dupont, the Marvin Gaye Park Trail, and many parks and community centers in between. We learned about bike maintenance and journaled about our experiences, and braved the Hillcrest hills together.

The Randle Highlands Bikers take a break near Fort Dupont park.

Last week I caught up with Jessie Webb, a recreation specialist and co-creator of Benning Park Bike Club. When Jessie approached us during the summer about the idea of starting an afterschool bike program at the rec, the timing was perfect, as WABA’s education department was hoping to pilot more youth enrichment programs around biking. Now, several months, many miles, meetings, snacks, and group rides later, we looked back on the program’s successes and challenges.
"My dream bike has boosters on the back."

“My dream bike has boosters on the back.”

WABA: Where did the idea to start a bike club come from? Jessie Webb: It was one of my first days around the rec center, in the community, and I kept seeing young people using a lot of ingenuity and riding bikes that shouldn’t be ridden, riding bicycle trash. I thought it would be cool to engage them this way — and they really love bikes, so we started out fixing their bikes … [and afterward] I really wanted us to have a bike club and to ride. That’s when we started talking and came upon the idea of youth exploring their community on their own two wheels.

Exploring the pirate ship at Anacostia Park.

WABA: I think you said once to me that this club – this program – engages the community in a unique way. Could you tell me more about that? JW: I thought it was a novel concept. In that coming of age time, around 12 or 13 — in those years you’ve got enough freedom to branch out a little bit and you want to do that. [Bike Club] is also me walking with youth in a safe way and kind of doing life together. I’m really big on mentoring, but as you go along, not just sitting down and I’m lecturing, but living life together through shared experiences. I thought the bike thing was a great tool to mentor through, to select youth and to get to know the kids.

DC Bike Ambassador Jon Gonzalez joined us for bike club in Hillcrest.

Also, I think the kids come [to the program], but it’s not like we serve them as much as it’s like they get to serve themselves. Because they are the ones riding the bike, a lot of the experience is self-guided, which I like. Even when they had to label different parts of the bike they had to figure it out themselves; the material wasn’t just spoon-fed to them. They were really excited about it — all throughout the week kids will be asking about the bike club. I think this is a great way to engage youth in a very different way … I had a guy tell me who’s been with the rec for many years that this is the first time he’s ever seen someone do a bike club through the rec department.

Benning Park Smooth Riders on the road.

WABA: What do you think the youth took away from the program? JW: The bike safety piece is something that wasn’t even on their radar before this, and now it is. Little things that we covered, like the abc check, putting air in your tire, thinking to check your brakes before you ride around – I think some of the youth if not all will remember how important these things are. I also think that their level of riding has been enriched a little bit. I think they have developed a love for biking, too. It’s probably already there with the lion’s share of the kids, but I think it’s going to grow through exercises like this, being able to be a part of this deal. It’d be great if we had some lifelong bikers develop, through being excited to be in the bike club and then having that hunger spurt on.
"My dream bike has eyes on it so it can see everywhere."

“My dream bike has eyes on it so it can see everywhere.”

Bike Clubs like these wouldn’t be possible without our excellent partner organizations and input from other educators. Big thanks to Darlene Ferguson and the faculty and staff of Randle Highlands Elementary School and Jessie Webb and the staff of Benning Park Recreation Center. We’re also so appreciative of the advice and words of wisdom from Ryne Emory of The Bike Depot in Denver, CO and Liz Pisarcyzk of Neighborhood Bike Works in Philadelphia, PA, who offered their time and experience to help us develop this program. WABA’s afterschool program will be back in the spring. Email us at education@waba.org if your organization is interested in hosting a bike club.