Not Just Spinning Wheels
By Jeannie Howard
Founded with goals of improving the health—mental and physical—of Richmond community members as well alleviating strain on the environment, Rich City Rides (RCR) has been using the bicycle as a catalyst for change since 2012. Since the organization’s inception, more than 6,000 individuals and families have participated in the variety of cycle-centric programs RCR offers.
Working in conjunction with the organization’s community programs, the Rich City Rides Bike Shop is the only visible entity of its kind servicing bikes in the immediate area, according to Nakari Syon, program coordinator for RCR. At the bike shop, community members are able to not only purchase new and refurbished bikes and cycling equipment but they can also learn trade skills from the various workshops RCR hosts. “The bike shop is how I fell in love with Rich City Rides,” Syon shared. “I’ve witnessed Rich City really become a pillar in the community as far as providing a safe zone for the children and offering lessons in a trade that is not heavily taught or acknowledged in this community.”
The most popular program offered, and often the first encounter many participants have with RCR, is the Self-Care Sunday social bike rides. “Every Sunday we meet in the same place, at the bike shop,” Syon said. “But each week the mileage and the course will change.” Rides are usually between eight and twenty miles and, while that may sound like a long ride to some, Syon assured that no one is ever left behind. “I find humor in telling people how many miles they road and how they realize they’re not so tired or that their body doesn’t hurt as much as they thought,” he said. “They feel inspired and obligated to come back each week.”
It is evident that those miles are about more than just fitness. “Immediately our goal is to get the community back on the streets to take back their health,” he described. “From there, we are breaking so many social barriers that have stricken our youth, young adults, and seniors and we are helping kids to not be afraid to ride their bikes in certain parts of the community,” Syon said the Self-Care Sunday rides are really a platform of unity. “Our riders are making friends with opposite races, genders, and ages.”
Over the years the number of participants has grown from an average of only eight to nearly thirty or more riders each week. The details for group rides are shared through the organization’s website and various social media channels, the bike shop, as well as through word of mouth. Syon encourages all interested riders to come out even if they do not own a bike; RCR has loaner bikes available on a first come first serve basis.
Offering a way to lessen dependence on public transportation as well as a chance to learn new skills, the Earn-A-Bike program has been transformative for those in need of a bike who are willing to commit to the requirements of the program. Because of the organization’s growth, the Earn-A-Bike program, which was originally geared toward children, has been able to expand to include a percentage of endangered, homeless, and formerly incarcerated adults, according to Syon. “Those interested need to participate in our Q & A Thursdays, our Fix-It Fridays, along with our Self-Care Sunday rides for four consecutive weeks,” he said. “Once they have accomplished these requirements they are granted a bike along with a helmet, lock, and lights.”
Not only are participants earning a bike, but they also learn valuable skills in how to do their own bike maintenance, which Syon believes is important on many levels. “It not only gives them a reason to appreciate their local bike shop more cause it is teaching them something, but it gives them an opportunity to share their knowledge with their family and to share how they came across the knowledge.”
Syon strongly believes that the sharing of knowledge and relationship building RCR encourages helps to put into motion the gears of positive change. “I have seen a lot of leadership changes in Richmond and more of our youth are stepping up and becoming a voice and being who they feel they should be for their community,” he said. “It fuels me every day just to know that we are a positive figure in our community; it brings me straight joy.”
For more information on the other cycling and community programs Rich City Rides offers, ways to get involved, or donate to the organization, visit Richcityrides.org.