Youth Gather to Celebrate and Grow Cycling

A report on the Youth Bicycle Summit — March 3, 2014

Young people from across the United States gathered on February 14 to talk about, celebrate, and organize around bicycles.

The kids from the Camden NJ Cycle Program, among them Treajure, NaeNae Taylor and Jonathan. The adult is Akram Abet, manager of Rails to Trails.

The annual event open to kids of all ages took place at the New School in Lower Manhattan over three days, with keynote speakers and meetings held throughout the day on Feb. 15.

It’s the third gathering of its kind since the then 17-year-old cyclists Kim and Kristi attended the League of American Bicyclists national summit and decided they needed to have something similar just for kids. The result is a program suited specifically for kids, a cooperation between Karen Overton’s Recycle-A-Bicycle, Parsons New School for Design, and several other groups organized under director of the program Pasqualina Azzarrello.

Three keynote speakers provided inspiration for the crowd, starting with Marc Katz, a junior at Stuyvesant High School who talked about how he remembers riding with is mom in Central Park when he was six, but now can do 50 mile rides with the New York Cycle Club.

The NYCC program, Kids Ride Club is run by Ed Fishkin, MD, Medical Direcotr at the North Brooklyn Health Network, and included the Escape New York overnight ride to West Point, NY.

“We’re reaching out to kids in out school,” said Katz. “I would definitely recommend creating [a club] in your school.”

Nelson Vails, 1984 Olympic silver medalist in track spoke to 16-year-old Robert P. Taylor who is a junior racer in the Cadence Neighborhood Bike Works from Philadelphia.

Also speaking was the inspirational Shem Rajoon who was an early reporter in the Harlem Live program that was founded by Richard Calton who had come to listen to Shem talk on this day.

Now a student at Parsons, Rajoon recounted his incredible journey from being a reporter on a bicycle in Harlem–“we were youth biking journalists,”—to being part of the Youth Bike Corps, to his adoption of the Brazilian movement technique called Capoeira–being a part of the Big Apple Circus in Harlem, to creating a kinetic movement class at the Crunch Gym.

Now Rajoon who is 27, is a partner in his new venture BKLN BEAST where he and his friends teach Parcour, capoeira and dancing in their own space. “Don’t be afraid to dream, to explore, to create,” said Rajoon. “Nothing is impossible–they say people can’t fly, but I fly off buildings all the time.”

Rajoon was followed by Nelson Vails, the first African American to win a silver medal at the Olympics in track cycling. Vails made his medal and racing in Europe look easy, combining his breezy speech style and some footage of his races from 1984 and later. (That evening was the premiere of his documentary, “Cheetah,” which showed to a sold out audience in Harlem.)

After winning his medal, Vails traveled around Europe and Asia and was paid to compete in local velodrome races, taking in about $1,000 per race. ‘That’s me bringing home the bacon the best way I can,” he commented to the audience.

After his talk, Vails was surrounded by young racers, some from the Cadence Cycling Foundation based in Philadelphia.  Robert P. Taylor, a 16-year-old racer asked Vails how to get onto teams because he said it was still hard to get into races without a team supporting you.

Vails gave a wonderful speech along with footage–outtakes that were not included in the new documentary about him, “Cheetah.”

The keynote presentation was followed by a fabulous procession of the BatalaNYC all women Afro-Brazilian drum band (see video below), who led a procession from the 12th St. auditorium to the 16th Street location where they day’s events took place.

At the 16th St. building we ran into Treajure, NaeNae, Taylor and Jonathan who were representing the Camden Cycle Program Cycle Club. The group often rides in the summer on 10-mile trips, and once took a 5-day trip last summer. Taylor said he lost 10 lbs last summer.

We attended a few of the workshops, among them “The Who’s Who of New York City Bike Education,” where several bike groups described how they are impacting youth cycling education in the city.

So much more has happened in the last few years, so this workshop was an eye-opener. Andree Sanders who is president and executive director of Trips for Kids, (the group started by Ed Fishkin,) presented along with Eugene Sorenson who is on the group’s board.

Stephen Anthony, who started I Challenge Myself to focus on college preparation, and physical education, said he started teaching Cycling Smarts to 700 students in 9 public high schools in Washington Heights, the South Bronx, and Harlem.  That includes the group’s ninth annual 50 mile ride to Carmel, NY to take place this year.  His two week college readiness program includes a morning bike ride followed by college prep in the afternoons, and he wants more schools to take part.

A fancy bike outside the 12th St. location of the New School

Omar Barrios described the increasing programs being put together by the city’s department of transportation, including simulated street scapes that allow third graders to practice bike riding, a helmet giveaway and try on program, and bike bonanzas held in conjunction with Recycle a Bicycle and Bike New York, where kids can practice riding without training wheels in a safe, controlled environment.

Coach Michael Sandler whose day job is deputy director of content at UNICEF spoke on behalf of Star Track cycling which teaches kids how to ride at the Kissena velodrome in Queens.  Other speakers included Lisa Rodriguez who talked about how Recycle-a-Bicycle helps kids learn how to fix, and then earn bicycles, and Zoe Cheswick who described the free education classes being offered by Bike New York in all five boroughs of the city.

Eugene Sorenson who also works for Trips for Kids started runs the New York division of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association which he would like see riding on expanded trails in Van Cortlandt Park.  That group has several mountain biking events scheduled during the year. 

During the lunch hour, attendees visited Youth Bike Maker Spaces, including a bike clothing and accessories workshop, a room for making jewelry and

Kids–girls and boys–sewing cycling apparel and accessories at one of the work shops

accessories out of tires and other bike parts, and instruction on how to create lights with batteries and small bulbs.

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