NYC’s public transportation usage took quite a hit during the pandemic, pushing the cycling community to the most popular it’s ever been. But this doesn’t mean everyone has access to a good bike, let alone a good teacher. Ride Up Grades, an independent cycling mentorship, camp and sponsorship service, is attempting to fix this issue at the source by providing a camp for public school kids who may not have the best gear. And the best part of it all – it’s free.
The camp program is geared towards kids ages 12-18. It’s a two-week bike intensive program on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bikes, helmets, and lunch are provided to the participants, as well as the coaching that the class revolves around. Ride Up Grades has also partnered with cycling product manufacturer Trek, which is providing the bikes and other gear.
A typical day in the camp will start from the West 96th Street Trek store where the kids will be fitted to bikes and given the necessary safety gear, then everyone will make their way to Central or Riverside Park. The groups, which are split into beginner, intermediate, and advanced, will be smaller than originally intended because of COVID protocols. Also, a mask is required at all times for participants and instructors of the camp.
All participants will need to have the most basic riding skill, which is being able to pedal unassisted. This is because even the beginner group will be going through turning, signaling, handling and other drills. More advanced groups will be focusing on endurance and riding on the roads solo as well as in a group.
“Our main goal is to introduce kids to cycling, get them involved, help them build their skills, and to really create access, breaking down the barriers to becoming a good cyclist that a lot of kids in the city might face,” said Tracy Norton-Fisher, the vice-president and cofounder of Ride Up Grades. “Access to a good bike, access to a good coach.”
And if you need further assurance, all instructors are certified by either the National Academy of Sports Medicine or the League of American Bicyclists.
Another goal of Ride Up Grades is to get kids out of the house and moving, not only because COVID has affected physical education, but because these rapid changes have changed the city in a larger way.
“We’re in a time when people don’t really want to be on trains, but kids still need to get to and from school,” Norton-Fisher said. “A lot of the kids we’re working with also have part-time jobs, so creating a place where they can learn how to safely navigate the streets is a big part of our goal. We want to encourage New York to be more bike friendly, and we want to encourage bikers to be more responsible.”
Ride Up Grades also offers a scholarship program for riders ages 18-22 who want to advance the quality of their cycling equipment.
“Our mission statement supports kids who do the work, but don’t have the access to really good gear,” Norton-Fisher said. “If you’re out there riding a Citi Bike around town but you’re putting in 50 miles a week, you’re the kid we want to talk to. We want to help you get to that next level.”
The scholarship program identifies kids who are excited and willing to take the next step in their cycling relationship.
“It’s really centered around getting kids into bike racing, road racing, doing crits, riding with a team,” Norton-Fisher said. “The winner of the scholarship gets a free Trek bike, helmet and full kit. We also pay for their entry into races and introduce them to a team and coach.”
Ride Up Grades as a concept was born just before COVID hit, which complicated programming and collaboration for the founders. However, this didn’t stop them from continuing their work and coming up with new programs.
“This is something we’ve been conceptualizing for years,” Norton-Fisher said. “Giving kids access to bikes, and breaking down the ‘bike snobbery’ and intimidation that comes with going into some of these high-end bike shops. Specifically, getting more diversity in cycling is a huge part of our mission as well. Just creating a space where women and people of color feel good about riding.”
In 2020 Ride Up Grades was able to complete its scholarship program, but all other programs were put on the back burner for 2021. Now, with protocols slowly being lifted and social life carefully returning to normal, Ride Up Grades is ready to begin its camps and coaching programs.
“We know that cycling and fitness in general changes lives,” said Norton-Fisher. “It changes people’s mental state, and obviously their physical state. It also creates goals and momentum in people’s lives. We love the idea of getting young people moving and engaged, and the bike is really the bridge to that.”
Signups for the camp, as well as more information on their mentorship scholarship programs and can be found on the Ride Up Grades website. Welcome packs were sent out to those who signed for the camp already and they close when Ride Up Grades has gotten enough replies, so they encourage anyone interested to apply as soon as possible to reserve a spot.
Ride Up Grades is an independent organization that is also actively accepting volunteers. Anyone interested can apply via their volunteer form page. Two board member positions are set to open at the end of 2021, so anyone with a passion for cycling is encouraged to get in contact.