Thursday, October 21, 2010

Eliot School Bike Rodeo

Yesterday IBC supported a kids bike rodeo at the Eliot School in Needham. Before I continue, allow me to describe what a bike rodeo is, because it might not be what you think. In fact, it wasn't what some of the kids thought, "this isn't like a REAL rodeo" one sharp kid observed, "there aren't any bull riders or anything." "And there aren't any clowns either" I added. "Well you LOOK like a clown with that stupid beard" another kid chimed in. OK, that last part didn't really are so well behaved these days, what, with the no cyber-bullying work shops and all. What happened to the good old fashioned cruelty of children? And what happened to back packs? Kids are now wheeling around carry on style luggage instead of backpacks. Don't they know it's never too early to start destroying their spines?

Although there wasn't actually a quip about me looking like a clown, there was one kid who said "Hey, I like your beard, you look like Abraham Lincoln." I told him that I normally don't sport such a weird beard and that it was for a Halloween costume. When I'd finished checking out his bike he said "Thanks Abraham Lincoln." I think that kid is going to do alright.

Ah yes, the beard:

So anyway...

A bike rodeo is an event put on by particularly awesome P.E. teachers at the elementary school level. The kids are rotated through a series of stations where they get tested on their knowledge of the rules of the road, they get their helmets fit properly, they get their bikes checked over for safety (that's where IBC comes in), and finally, they get to go cruise around and bicycle safety obstacle course to demonstrate their real world skills.

If they pass they entire course, the kids get a license to ride to school, and many of them end up using their licenses.

Checking out kids bikes doesn't take a whole lot of tools, allow me to make a bullet point list of what is required:

  • 13, 14, and 15mm box wrenches for axle nuts and stem bolts
  • 8mm Allen wrench for loose kickstands (there will be many)
  • 5mm Allen for stem bolts and assorted loose items
  • 6mm Allen for stem bolts (Lots of loose bars)
  • Chain lube (bikes get left out in the all expensive toys)
  • Pliers for straightening out crooked valve stems (Magna's come stock with these)
  • A well-functioning floor pump

The floor pump...

by the end of a kids bike rodeo your arms will be destroyed from pumping up all the tires. A great ploy is to bring at least two pumps and rope the kids into pumping their own tires. They will actually be completely psyched to do it too. And they love putting valve caps back on. Of course I will tell them that valve caps are not really all that important, and that they will likely wreck their tubes on a sharp curb edge (probably because their parents didn't pump up their tires for three months) before the valve begins to degrade from exposure to the elements. This I do for posterity, so that in twenty years these kids won't come into IBC and say "I am really, really ANGRY with you people. I just had a computer installed yesterday, and after I drove for over two hours back to my house, I noticed that there was no valve cap on my rear wheel (they never say tube, never)... this is unacceptable, I demand a new valve cap for FREE!" Such is the over-inflated (pun intended) role of a valve cap in people's minds, they think that they are actually worth something. Ya, the ones in the form of light-up skulls and dice are, sure, but the standard black ones...they're about as valuable as Zimbabwean pennies.

Most of the bikes (at least in Boston's suburbs) are generally in pretty decent shape: a little lube, a little air and they're good to go. But then there are a always a few bikes that make you go "Wow, this thing is a death trap. I wonder if this kid gets 'running scissors' and 'eye-poking sticks' for his birthday?"

Bike rodeos are always fun and the end result is that you get kids riding to school, which is pretty cool. Thanks to Craig Brenhiser and the Eliot School for putting this thing on!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

National Take A Kid Mountain Biking Day

Riding mountain bikes with kids is awesome. I know that's kind of a shaky thesis, but I think I can back it up.

On the first Saturday in October, NEMBA hosted a National Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day ride in the Middlesex Fells. About 80 kids showed up to ride, eat pizza, and spray paint bike themed T-shirts. My role at this event was to lead rides. Often leading kids rides is akin to herding chickens with their heads cut off, but I got lucky with my group, they were all little rippers. We started with about eleven kids, six of whom were from a Cub Scout troop. The scouts only had to ride, I think it was a mile, for their merit badge. So they cut out after the first part of the loop. Which was good because that group contained that one kid. That human cannonball kid. The one who takes no instruction and is hell bent on taking out every other kid in his path. I breathed a great sigh of relief as I saw him roll away. Though our National Mountain Bike Trail Patrol rider may have been cursing under his breath: "Damn, I guess I'm not going to be needing these sutures then...boring!"

The scouts get a little pre-ride maintenance talk

A big part of riding with kids is quickly determining the group dynamic and assessing the kids' skill levels. At one point I hopped a log and pointed out the easier line to my right for the kid right behind me who totally ignored me and went straight for the spot where I had hopped it. He threw his front wheel up, tagged the log pretty hard, then his rear wheel hit and sent him flying. I thought he was going down for sure, but no: he didn't even put a foot down, he just wrestled the bike back into line and rode out of it smiling.

Later on the same kid (full disclosure: the "kid" was GB NEMBA President Adam Glick's son Sam) cleaned the above rock obstacle. It was one of those things where you had to commit 100% or fall on your butt. One of the adult guides asked "So, when you do something like this how do you think about bailing out." "You don't" I replied. I told all the kids who were trying it to "go full throttle, no brakes, all or nothing, do or die!" Sam pulled it off and it was rad.

Another View. It wasn't any easy move for anyone.

Sam wasn't the only rock star either. We had kids in the group who hadn't really been on a mountain bike ride, ever. The first time we stopped for a log-hopping clinic they weren't having any of it, but the second time we stopped, they went for it and got over the thing with varying levels of grace and composure.

We were close to completing out allotted loop but the crew was still rarin' for more. This was a solid group with good skills and exceptional fitness, so we blew past the turn for the parking lot and continued on, all the way up to the Bear Hill fire tower. There we had a little rock-upping clinic that, due to a rear wheel not quite getting de-weighted enough, turned into a flat-fixing clinic.

There were a couple good do-over sessions on rooty uphills. The sponge-factor (or maybe it's the lack of fear-factor) is so much more apparent in children. On the first attempt they'd flail all over in too small of a gear and ride off the trail. But with the smallest amount of coaching they'd blast right up the thing, no problem.

The mantra of the day on the descents was "control, not speed." While "letting it go" is the best policy on descents for adults or older kids, if you tell younger kids to "let it go" they will really, REALLY let it go, not stopping until their bars jackknife and they end up munching on gravel.

You don't have to wait until the next National Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day to take a kid mountain biking. Go do it this weekend, you won't regret it...unless the kid is that human cannonball kid. In that case bring some bubble wrap, hockey pads, and a cell phone with 911 on speed dial.

The next big NEMBA event is the Wicked Ride of The East up in North Andover on Halloween. So get dressed up and come on out for some killer riding!