Inner-city bike park offers underserved a chance to ‘go rip’

September 11, 2014 · 3 minute read

Maybe you’ve followed the story of Richmond Cycling Corps over the past few years. RCC is a local non-profit who’s stated purpose is “to change the lives of youth who live Richmond’s public housing projects. We use cycling as our platform for change.”

The way RCC has delivered on that promise constantly changes, morphing as challenges and opportunities arise to meet kids’ needs.

Some of the Richmond Cycling Corps kids practice on the then-unfinished trail. Credit: RCC

Some of the Richmond Cycling Corps kids practice on the then-unfinished trail. Credit: RCC

Last year, for instance, RCC started a high school mountain biking team at Armstrong High. The team has started showing promise, but RCC founder Craig Dodson said that as they’ve identified and nurtured riders with growing talent and drive he began to worry that others were being left behind.

He tells the story of a girl from Fairfield Court who showed an interest in the program. He brought her out to Dogwood Dell to watch the team do time-trial laps. “I don’t think she had ever been in the woods,” he said. And when she saw how fast the other kids were riding, “she just freaked out. She said, ‘I’m out of here.'”

Dodson realized that they needed a way to bridge the gap from that girl to the experienced riders they had already produced.

On Saturday that bridge will be unveiled in a field behind Armstrong High. For months, RCC, volunteers and many of the kids who will eventually benefit from it, have been building a bike skills park.

“It’s a gateway drug,” Dodson said. “It’s hard to get kids in the inner city into mountain biking. It’s damn near impossible. So we thought if we build a park in that neighborhood and we provide the bikes, then we’ve got  point of entry that you can’t beat. Now kids can walk out their front door, go to the park and they’re mountain biking in the middle of the housing projects.”

They raised $12,500 from private donations, which Bon Secours matched, giving RCC $25,000 to put to use building walls, big dirt  and wood berms, skinnys, giant rollers and other structures that help riders develop and hone their skills. $10,000 went toward what Dodson calls Phase 1, which will be unveiled Saturday. The remaining $15,00 will pay to build more trails and for a shipping container to be brought in that will hold 16 bikes available for kids to use.

RCC founder Craig Dodson at work on the Armstrong Bike Skills Park. Credit: RCC

RCC founder Craig Dodson at work on the Armstrong Bike Skills Park. Credit: RCC

“There’s an elementary and high school that share the property so it’s a resource for both of them and also a resource for youth in the East End, especially the housing projects,” Dodson said. “We’ll have certain days and times, and just like you go to the roller skating rink and check out skates, you’ll be able to walk right up check out a bike and helmet and go rip on the course. And if they want some instruction, we’ll absolutely help them out.”

Dodson see this as the missing link “in terms of broadening our outreach base. The thing is, the kids that were staying with us from year to year were getting so good on the bikes that every time we get a new kid, the disparity was huge.

“What we’ve got now is basically a farm system, where we get the kids out there and get them through that learning curve a lot easier…and get that entry a lot more seamless. Then we can identify kids who can make the jump into the travel program.”

Mayor Dwight Jones, City Councilperson Cynthia Newbille and other dignitaries will be on hand for Saturday’s grand opening at 11 a.m. at Armstrong High School (near the running track). Dodson said that he’d love to see Richmond’s mountain biking community come to the opening, and he added that whoever did would get a chance to ride the nearly mile-long course.

“I promise you this,” he said. “We’re going to have a great time and their mind is going to be blown.”