When I Turn 16, Can I Get a Fixie?

Kids at Colonial High School have run a biking program since 2008. What I like about it is what the title implies: bikes can be as attractive as cars to teenagers. What you should like about it is that Bike Club is a lot like a bicycling forum because it creates a community for many different people who like bikes.

This is what Bike Club looks like:

A white and red 3-speed cruiser parks there one to three times a week. The bike has a silver back rack that snaps down a duffle bag. Sometimes, the driver of this bicycle is wearing her ROTC uniform and has her hair pinned back when she drops the bike off and goes to class. Sometimes she leaves the candy cane cruiser outside the door when she gets there before the teacher…

A blue and white vintage Cannondale road bike is there four days a week. Reminiscent of the hearty Cold War patriotism of the 1980s, it has large, white letters on the seat tube that says: MADE IN USA. The old Cannondale has what the 150 non-bike-club students that pass the bike on the way in and out of my classroom every day call skinny tires. Cannondale has Nitto drop bars with no tape that were donated to the club. In fact, the bike itself was donated. The driver of the Cannondale became a member of the bike club the day came to my door and said, “Somebody said you might be able to find me a bike?” Hours earlier, a bike had been donated for a “kid who might need it.” I call this Divine Intervention.

A white and hot-pink Mongoose is here four days of the week–except for one week in March–this is the week the driver was in Washington, DC. She was one of two kids at our school that were chosen to do a volunteer project to come back and rebuild our communities. The hot-pink Mongoose sat at home home while she met with our representative. Then, suddenly, the hot-pink and white bike was back. The driver was electrified, saying, “Washington, DC is like a biker’s dream!” They’re everywhere! She’s trying to save up for a road bike.

A BMX bike with a gray Stolen Cherry frame, Duo and Odyssey tires, Shadow Conspiracy wheels, Primo pedals and a Redneck XLT stem is here 3-4 days a week. The driver comes in tired and doesn’t say much some mornings because he was up late filming himself doing tricks on his bike.

A red Mongoose BMX bike is parked here every day. It is not a BMX bike one would use to compete with like the Stolen Cherry bike. You can tell by the big, flat black chainring that is losing its paint. The red Mongoose is driven by a little pale 10th grader with black hair. Her boyfriend used to let her drive some red and blue spray-painted mountain bike to school for a week while he was suspended. Before that, she’d just stand here and wait with this foul-smelling, spray-painted monster at my classroom door while its driver went and hung out with his friends by the cafeteria. Now it’s just the red one with the chipped chain ring; the spray-painted mountain bike is nowhere to be found.

There is also an amazingly clean white fixie with white rims. Its white handlebars gleam. It has bright blue tires. In a world of bells and tardy passes, the driver follows a different set of rules. He goes to the dual enrollment classes, which start later. Like a handsome ghost, the white bike glides in late every, single day. A bright red piece of plastic conduit hides the chain in a shiny cocoon. It makes the white fixie look belt-driven. It looks like a cartoon of a bike. But it’s an advertising for biking because it has been described by of the students in my English II class who do NOT ride bikes in the following ways:

Wow. That looks really expensive. How much does that bike cost, Mister?

That bike looks fast. Is that bike fast, Mister?

Whose bike is that, mister?

That’s the kind of bike I want.

(Stopping in his tracks) That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

It really is beautiful.  All in all, these are just a few of the bikes, but they’re the identities of the Colonial Bike Club. I think we could do more, though. There should be more bikes there. I feel like if there were more bikes there would be more riders. Heavier bikes with big-box components do more to dissuade students from riding than they do to encourage them. They are heavy, hard to ride, and embarrassing in a culture that puts so much value on the object. Instead of being a Cannondale or a red and white 3-speed or a white fixie, students become a Walmart.

Bike Club has a repair stand, a few bike tools, and students who want to ride. We have run cables, trued wheels, rebuilt whole bikes, powder-coated frames, changed tons of tires and tubes, swapped out handlebars, and on and on and on. But most students don’t have suitable bikes to start with.

Luckily, there is not actually a deficiency in the number of bikes. There are plenty of bikes in our garages. The issue is getting them from there into the hands of the kids who will use them. For you, there can be a huge freedom that comes from removing the chains of material objects. For them, you might be able to turn it into a chain that kids can use to pull themselves to a better place.

In the end, though, whether or not you can help with Bike Club in a material sense isn’t really important. I think what’s most important is acknowledging it–not the club, but what the club encourages among the non-bike-club students–essentially, discovering the movement of bikes.


7 replies
  1. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    It is good to hear that Cannondales really DO have staying power. My own is now 14 years old and is still a sweet ride. As they used to say – “handmade in the USA.”

  2. Brian Glover
    Brian Glover says:

    Great essay, Jesse! This is the kind of cultural work we need to think about — not just what bikes do (they all get you from A to B), but what people think about what they do. Keep up the great work!

  3. Eric
    Eric says:

    Colonial HS is now one of those “tough” schools where not much is expected of it’s graduates. Brown collar parents aspiring for blue collared children.

    I think that everyone should learn a trade. Even people that also (l)earn college degrees should learn a trade. This is not because I think that everyone needs a “backup” way to earn a living, although it could be used that way, but that working with one’s hands is so much satisfying than pushing papers with those same hands (even if it pays better money).

    I think that an advance past riding bikes would be to teach children how to repair “simple machines” like bicycles. The beginning of engineering is, and was, understanding simple machines. The Governor says he wants engineers, but he neglects where they come from, the working class.

    Another idea, which is new to children of HS age, is to learn to think in three dimensions. That’s something that most people never learn to do. Learning to make pottery, which is just about the only place people of that age can learn to make something from scratch teaches problem solving skills that can’t be learned elsewhere.

    I see children at Colonial HS learning great things. Things that were not possible when I was in HS. I was never taught to be a problem solver.

    • jesse
      jesse says:

      It’s awesome. We have a pottery class, an auto program, and affiliation with Winter Park Tech that allows them to build machines.

      What I want to do is to encourage students to challenge the idea that transportation has to be such a product; to challenge how, right now, it’s tied up to a large down-payment and then a monthly charge (financing a car); or a huge lump sum, followed by a continued buy-in to the petroleum industry (buying a car and then getting gas–and insurance).

      Also, I want to encourage them to fix the bikes themselves. I’m very inspired by Dorothy Day and her work-farms, by Gandhi and his spinning wheel. These are ways to drop out of a system that is oppressive, which is something we are all called to do. It doesn’t surprise me at all that these two highly self-actualized religious people both recognized the importance of shedding material obesity and of returning self sufficiency as a way to rebel against oppression, or that these actions were at the same time an expression of faith. I just bought an SUV, so I have a lot of work to do. I also bike as my primary transportation (and just built my first wheel!), so I’m working.

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