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Anyone can learn to ride a bike, but not everyone has access to the tools to make that a reality. The first Los Angeles edition of USA Cycling’s Let’s Ride Camp took place this past Sunday, October 10, giving more kids that opportunity.
Over 40 elementary-school-aged kids from the Los Angeles area, many from underserved communities, showed up for a free basic bike skills and safety clinic program at the VELO Sports Center in Carson, California, where they received free helmets and access to bikes to practice with. Over 20 volunteers from local cycling organizations including the East Side Riders Bike Club, the Bahati Foundation and Streets Are For Everyone (SAFE) were on hand to help the kids improve their cycling skills.
Started about a year ago with multiple events having already taken place around the country, the Let’s Ride camps are designed to help kids take the next step in learning how to ride a bike, whether they’re moving on from training wheels or are already confident riders.
“The goal is to be able to go to and from school, essentially,” said Kelsey Erickson, USA Cycling’s executive director of athlete health and wellness, who was busy leading kids in drills throughout the three-hour long event. Weaving carefully through skills courses of cones set up in a roped off section of a parking lot, the kids diligently worked on their riding skills for hours in the early afternoon Southern California sun. For some kids, the day was about learning basic yet crucial information including signaling, brake usage, proper helmet use and making sure their tires are inflated. The more advanced riders in attendance got time to hone their skills with pointers from coaches and volunteers.
But before anyone can learn how to ride a bike, they first need access to one. “Some of these kids don’t have a chance to get bikes or helmets from their parents,” said John Jones, president of the East Side Riders Bike Club. His organization helps change that by collecting bikes to donate to children. All kids in attendance at the camp on Sunday who needed a bike got access to one. And at the end of the day, the club announced that all the kids in attendance who borrowed a bike would get to keep it, in addition to the helmet provided to every participant.
Besides working on their cycling skills and getting the tools they need to continue riding on their own, the kids also left with some inspiration for where the bike can take them. After touring the VELO Sports Center—the velodrome that was the home of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic track cycling events—the kids got to visit with several Olympic cyclists, including Mari Holden, who brought along her silver medal from the Sydney Games; Nicole Shields, a Tokyo 2020 athlete from New Zealand; and Jo Kiesanowski, a multi-time Olympian also from New Zealand.
“I think for a first effort, it was really good,” said Holden—who was also helping coach the kids throughout the day—about the event. Now retired from cycling, she serves as community director for USA Cycling, helping with events like Let’s Ride. The hope is that the format of this event, partnering with community organizations, can be a model moving forward for the Let’s Ride program, she said.
The partnering organizations also liked how the event went. Damian Kevitt, the founder of the traffic safety advocacy group Streets Are For Everyone (SAFE), said that putting on the event has been a great partnership between SAFE, the East Side Riders, the Bahati Foundation, USA Cycling, Herbalife and the LA Galaxy. SAFE, which Kevitt is the executive director of, handled the production side of the event. The goal is to hold four of these events a year in the Southern California area, he said. And plenty more kids can attend—Sunday’s event had a capacity for up to 150 participants.
All the groups involved in putting on the event were excited to reach even more kids by holding more events. For Rahsaan Bahati, the founder of the Bahati Foundation who grew up cycling and racing bikes in nearby Compton, these events provide an important way to expose inner city kids to cycling. To reach more participants in the future, he wants to “take [the program] to the kids” by visiting school campuses.
But for now, the Let’s Ride Camp in its current form has succeeded in helping the kids who showed up on Sunday to strengthen their cycling abilities. Many participants had noticeably improved over the course of the three hours of the event. And many more now have access to a bike at home. At its core, the day was “about getting kids on bikes and helmets on heads,” said John Jones, the East Side Riders president. After Sunday, there are a lot more of both of those.