Bike Clubs Combine Fun, Education and Exercise

Bike Club serves over a dozen primary schools as well as Webster Middle School and Hale High School.

Much more than just a form of exercise or a mode of transportation, a bike is freedom on two wheels. Just ask any kid tooling around the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon, powered by nothing more than his or her own two legs. Bike Club, a Tulsa-based nonprofit, wants every kid to experience that joy – and maybe learn a few life skills in the process. Established in 2014 from the collaborative efforts of Jason Whorton and Mike Wozniak, Bike Club began at Emerson Elementary and has since expanded to serve over a dozen primary schools, with Webster Middle School and Hale High School recently added to the mix.

Each school club has approximately 20 students, primarily fifth graders, and five volunteers, one or more of whom is a faculty member. Bike Club provides everything needed to run the program in a “kit” – bikes for kids and adults, helmets, safety vests, curriculum, pumps, etc.

The clubs meet after school each week. In the fall, meetings focus on teaching cycling skills and life skills like confidence, respect and responsibility. STEM skills are emphasized, too. In the spring, bike time is front and center with off-campus rides and experiences like cycling to a nearby fire station, park or museum.

“We have what we call circuit partners in the community,” Adam Vanderburg explains. Vanderburg, former owner of Lee’s Bicycles and currently the Advocacy Coordinator for Phat Tire Bike Shop, has worked with Bike Club for two years.

“The Tulsa Health Department comes in and does a nutrition lesson, and the Tulsa Police Department comes in and does some safety training,” he says. “These circuit partners rotate throughout the year through the different schools.”

There are plenty of hands-on experiences, too, where the students get to put math and science in action.

“We talk about the velocity, the speed, and the breaking mechanics. We teach the kids how to do basic safety checks,” Vanderburg says. “USA BMX is coming to Tulsa, and they’re sending three of the schools five bicycles as their STEM project. We’re going to teach the kids about the nuts and bolts of bicycles and how to put them together, threading the nuts down and torqueing the nuts and bolts to specifications.”

While the kids learn all kinds of valuable things in Bike Club, in the end, according to Vanderburg, a lifelong cyclist, it’s all about being on the bikes.

“Riding is why they’re here,” Vanderburg laughs. “It’s about getting out and learning those skills of cycling and how to ride safely and how to have fun. These kids are learning a lot about goal setting. They’re learning a lot about leadership and building their own confidence. When you get out on a bike, you get very creative. You get very focused. So that’s really one of the best parts of Bike Club – just getting out and riding.”

Upon completing the program, each student receives a new bike to keep.

“It’s their reward,” Vanderburg says. “We have a big bike rally at the end of April. Last year’s rally was from downtown all the way up 11th Street to the University of Tulsa. The street’s closed down. We get police escorts. The kids get to ride to a university and see what that looks like.”

As Bike Club expands into high schools, new curriculum is added.

“At the high school level, we’re exploring more of the sport of the activity. We’re doing mountain biking and mountain bike racing,” Vanderburg says. “We’ve taken kids from Hale High School to Arkansas for two mountain bike tournaments. We take them on field trips to Turkey Mountain and Blue Bell Park. We’re going to teach the kids how to cut mountain bike trails, and then after we do some work on the trails, we’ll go ride them.”

Typically, the schools with a Bike Club program require participating students to meet the Tulsa Public School core values pertaining to attitude, behavior and coursework.

“We’re working on data evaluation now,” Vanderburg notes. “The early reports from TPS show that these kids definitely have better attendance, and attendance is key to keeping these kids in school and keeping them on track with coursework and grades.”

Private donations and support from sponsors and partners like Phat Tire Bike Store and QuikTrip keep Bike Club rolling, but according to Vanderburg, volunteers are key.

“Just giving the kids your time,” he emphasizes. “Time is so important.”

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JulieJulie Wenger Watson is a freelance writer who’s worked in all aspects of music promotion. She’s also Co-Director of “Live From Cain’s,” a public radio show pilot.

Categories: Health