Over the past few weeks I had the exciting opportunity to partner with Portland’s “Community Cycling Center” (CCC) as a volunteer bike club leader. On Mondays and Wednesdays I would leave the house early (well, earlier than my normal noonish hour), all hunkered down with my on-the-go tool set and book bag, and make my way up the beautiful east-bank esplanade and alongside the bluffs of the Willamette river until reaching one of the northern-most Portland neighborhoods, St. John’s. James John Elementary School is one of (at least) seven schools in Portland that has agreed to partner with CCC in providing kids the opportunity to learn safe riding skills, basic bike maintenance, and have the chance to build their confidence as cyclists.
In short, the CCC is a bike-focused non-profit that seeks to “help broaden access to bicycling and its benefits through…hands-on programs, volunteer projects, and [a] neighborhood bike shop.” Its tagline/guiding principle is short and sweet: The bicycle is a tool for empowerment and a vehicle for change. The CCC see’s this played out in offering a number of programs for youth (bike camp, bike club, holiday bike drive, and a free bikes for kids program) and adults (maintenance classes, create a commuter class, and a free bike-light program called “get lit”) alike. The vision took form in 1994 when some folks in NE Portland noticed that local kids were riding around on broken-down bikes, and that there were no programs to help these kids learn how to fix them (not to mention how to learn basic ridership skills). Since then, the CCC has developed a professional, full-service bike shop, obtained 501(c)(3) status, and has nearly twenty employees and 8,000 community supporters! (their full history can be found here)
At the school, my job was really to help out the CCC staff however I could. Sometimes this looked like helping kids with bike-locking techniques, or in teaching how to change a flat tire, but most of my time was spent watching over the kids as we rode. One of the things I loved was hearing just how communicative the kids could be while riding: “turning right…” “stopping…” “car front…” “car back…” Any regular cyclist would confess just how important audible communication can be while riding. In addition, the kids became regular pro’s at hand signaling, gear-changing, and being active observers of “right-of-way”.
To be honest, the amount of bike-knowledge these kids walked away with is probably more than most adults know back where I am from. The interesting thing about this kind of rudimentary bike-knowledge is that while it doesn’t take long to learn (especially for adults), it could very well save one’s life. Most (though, sadly, not all) cars will notice the charismatic, confident, and assertive bicyclist on the road (truly, one comes to learn that it is all about making himself known). But it is the timid, side-walk riding, non-signaling rider that has a much higher chance of simply not being seen.
Working with kids is, for me, so refreshing and so much fun. I had a great time learning from, teaching, and enjoying time well spent with some of Portland’s finest future cyclists!