This picture captures so much about why FreeWheels exists. Even at first glance, a middle school student just having fun, seeing if he can get some air under his tires over a sewer grate in the woods behind his school is a great visual of the power of a good ride.
But it's not that simple. That student is borrowing a bike from a friend of his in Bike Club because he doesn't want to mess up the fenders and rack on his daily ride-to-school bike, his main mode of transportation. He has repaired half a dozen bikes for others, and is a go-to authority in repair classes now.
He's also riding over a sewer grate that until recently was covered by rusty cans, tires, and broken glass. hundreds of volunteers, including students from two of our bike clubs, spent thousands of hours clearing honeysuckle, picking up trash and sculpting lines to make the "Rozarks" trails a reality.
Just over 18 months ago, the trails didn't exist. There were some unofficial shortcuts that were strangely clean of trash (We found out that kids walking to school picked up trash as they went, keeping their routes sparkling clean!), ut no trails, just an abandoned quarry next to a school. The "Rozarks" trails around the Rosedale Arch were just built in the last 18 months, and close to three miles of trail has been reclaimed from a few shortcuts and lots of antique trash in the woods to provide a great outdoor classroom/shortcut to school/mountain bike paradise to the kids who go to school there.
Of course, Bike Club isn't all pristine urban trails and bike commuting. Some of our mapping exercises turn into a story hour of fleeing from danger in Burma, Malaysia, Eritrea and Kansas City. We've pulled every possible flat-maker out of tires on rides. Sometimes (less often all the time) people in cars go out of their way to let us know how unhappy they are. Many of our students have lived or are living through trauma no one should have to face, especially before their 14th birthday.
That's why we do what we do. We build trails and ride bikes and overhaul headsets and take training wheels off because we see the smile-mixed-with-concentration as a kid forgets all about the dangerous mine that drove his family from their hometown far away and focuses on trying to adjust his hubs juuuuust right for maximum speed. We do it because nailing a sketchy off-road line on a heavy BMX just has a way of taking your mind off the gang members hanging out in the courtyard at home. We do it because we know kids would rather bike down to the river and skip rocks than play video games or worse. We do it because we have students who make a game of yelling "I like your [car/hat/bike/shirt/whatever]!" to everyone they see, and that has a way of making KCK seem like a pretty friendly place.
In 2014, we had five Bike Clubs, with kids from one site or another riding every single day, building trails, surveying new ones, picking up trash, liking every hat they saw, trying to throw rocks to the other shore, repairing close to 100 bikes for littler kids(!) and generally making KC a safe and healthy place to live.With your support, we plan to keep growing in 2015. Help us make it happen by donating online. You can find more information about donating here.
Help us make 2015 even better. See you out there on the road!
Rosedale Bike Club practices their bike-handling by jumping off this drain in the woods by their school.