Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Major Taylor Project makes headlines

A little over a month ago I was hired onto the Major Taylor Project team. This project, which is a non-profit organization, backed by bike advocacy giants, the Cascade Bicycle Club, founded by long-time cycling community member, Ed Ewing, and supported by the dedication of numerous instructors, such as Danielle Rose, is focused on diversifying cycling and giving disadvantaged youth the opportunity to experience the absolute thrill and freedom of riding a bike.
Whether it be riding to school, gaining fitness, having freedom to hop on two wheels and go anywhere, or pursuing the possibility of racing, the Major Taylor Project wants to make the students know all of these options are possible!

Throughout the few weeks that we have been working at schools the buzz is already spreading fast. Just a few days ago an article was published in the Seattle Times about the Project.

Check it out:


Almost every occupation I have had has either revolved around biking or with working with youth: whether it was working as a mechanic at a bike shop, coaching other racers, racing bikes on the Pro circuit in the USA and Europe, or teaching kids how to rock-climb and row, working at a pre-school with infants, and teaching ancient Greek mythology at an art high school.

In the past, working with kids has been natural for me. Kids are such fun humans to be around; they are more willing to try adventurous activities, they are more willing to make mistakes, they are less judgmental, and when I am around kids I can just act like my goofy self. Kids are the best "bosses to work for" because they don't pressure you or have unnecessary expectations.

Yes, of course it is fun to have a job where I ride around all day exploring new bike paths and scenic roads which a bunch of rowdy and enthusiastic high schoolers.

But, the other day I realized something more, something more meaningful about what exactly my role as an instructor for the Major Taylor is. Last Saturday, the students from Global Connections High school in Seatac came to velodrome in at Marymoor park to learn how to ride track racing bikes on the steep curved walls of the outdoor bike race arena. Many of them had not even heard of a velodrome, let alone seen one.

One student in particular, his name is Abdul, was very nervous. I could tell his confidence in himself was lacking. He did not believe that he was capable of riding on the steep walls without falling off. I rode up to him and said, "how are you doing?"

"I can't ride on that," he replied.

I paused for a moment and said, "What do you mean? Sure you can. I just saw you riding on the banking over there."

"But, that is not the steep part. The steep part is where you fall off."

"Alright, check this out," I said. I then biked with him to the steepest part and began riding as slow as I possibly could.

"Oh man," he said, "You aren't sliding off."

"You are right," I answered, "I am not sliding. You see, the weird part about this track is that it is just shallow enough where you won't slip off. You want to give it a try?"

"Yeah." he said with mixed enthusiasm and skepticism.

"Alright, awesome." I said non-nonchalantly, "This is what we are going to do. We are going to pick-up speed on the straight part of the track, and as soon as we hit the steep turn we are going to pedal as fast and hard as we can. The tricky part is that as soon as you get scared and think you are going to fall off is when you have to pedal harder and faster because the harder you pedal the more it will make your tires stick to the track."

By this point we were nearing the banking. "Alright, let's do this!" I shouted. "pedal harder NOW!"

With a serious face he started pedaling harder. He shouted over to me, "I have to pedal harder?"

He kept on asking me this over and over, and every time he asked this I just hollered, "Yup!"

If I could hazard a guess, I would say Abdul was not actually asking if he needed to pedal harder, rather, he needed to believe in himself, and in order to do this he needed positive reinforcement that what he was doing was right.

Him asking me. "I have to pedal harder?," simply translated into: "Am I doing this right? I am not sure of myself and want to do this so badly."

Abdul was more than capable. All he needed was to believe this himself. Allowing these students to believe in themselves is what I find so rewarding about this Project. Because this feeling of "being capable" at riding a bike will seep into the rest of their lives where they will feel capable at any endeavor or dream they decide to pursue. Biking is merely the catalyst for a chain reaction of self-confidence these students deserve.

As we exited the steep banking Abdul pulled away and started hooting and hollering and whooping it up.

"I did it. I did it!"

"Of course you did," I said, "I knew you would. Now, let's see you ride up to the blue line half way up the track."

"Oh man, there is no way I can do that," Abdul exclaimed.

I looked at him and said, "Abdul, give me a break. You just said you couldn't ride on the steep part and you just did. Now you are going to tell me you can't ride higher up the track? I know you can do it and you know you can do it."

By the end of the field trip I was watching Abdul riding with ease on the highest parts of the track, maneuvering his bike like he had done it a million times before.

Moments like these are why the Major Taylor Project is so damn cool. And the best part of it all is that I am involved with it.

I you want to become more involved, you can:Call Cascade Bicycle Club at 206-522-2453.