March 4, 2014

by Zoe Kircos, PeopleForBikes grants manager

An instructor during one of the bike classes taught by Project Bike Trip.

I talk a lot about passion. I know. It’s a thing. I see it a lot in my job — the passion to ride bikes, the passion to build bike trails, the passion to make your neighborhood, your city, your country, your world a better place. Sometimes that passion gets a little beat up when we face funding troubles, bureaucratic red tape, or just plain indifference. And sometimes — sometimes — that everyday grind of your life takes an unexpected turn and passion blooms.

I?m going to tell you a story. I tell a lot of stories. I know. It’s a thing.

Berri Michel owns the Bicycle Trip bike shop in Santa Cruz, California. I met her at Interbike (that’s the big, annual bicycling trade show held in Las Vegas) about a year and a half ago. The PeopleForBikes theme was Build More Than Bicycles and we were inviting people to share their stories about the work they do in their communities BESIDES selling bikes. You wanna talk about passion? These people have passion. They organize bike rodeos for kids, volunteer at bike races and local festivals, help build mountain bike trails, teach people how to shift gears and fix a flat, the list goes on.

Students learn how to work on their bikes from skilled instructors.

For me, Berri’s story stood out. As a bike shop owner, she?d always been involved in bike safety classes and programs for kids. But over the years she?d found it harder and harder to hire qualified bicycle mechanics. So then she thought, why not train high school students to work on bikes, provide them with valuable skills they can use forever, and along the way create a workforce for her bike shop and the others in the area?

The thing that struck me was that Berri didn’t just offer a class, teach some kids, and call it a day. Berri went big. Today, the non-profit Project Bike Trip works with the Santa Cruz Regional Occupational Program to provide Bike Tech classes – for credit – in seven high schools. They also started a Bike Tech program in a high school in Sacramento. And launched Bike Clubs in two middle schools.

We gave a small grant to Project Bike Trip at that Interbike and I was curious to see how things were going. I spoke with Berri, Kira Ticus who helps run the program, and Justin, a student at Scotts Valley High School who is taking a Bike Tech class, a few weeks ago.

Justin loves bikes, all kinds of bikes, and rides all the time. When he found out there was a class to teach him how to work on his bike, ?that seemed like a sick idea,? he told me, and signed up. A friend of his went through the program last year and got a job in a bike shop afterward. ?I?m going to try and use this training as a starting point for a career,? Justin said.

Project Bike Trip aims to teach students mechanical skills to help them in life.

Kira emphasized that in addition to getting support from the bike industry — Giant, Quality Bicycle Products, Bell Sports, Fox, and Park Tools have all provided donations or discounts — they also want people from those companies to talk about career opportunities in the field. — We want this program to enlighten students about all the different avenues that mechanical training can open up for them,? Kira said. ?The bicycle is the starting point and it can take you lots of places.?

Berri and I have exchanged a bunch of emails and in every one the ideas just tumble out. Programs, presentations, curriculum, classes, ?I always have more ideas than I can put out,? Berri wrote me.

I guess that sums up my story. You start out trying to hire an employee for your shop and you end up with a whole new focus to your life. You begin with the day-to-day and sometime — sometimes — you find passion.


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