by Daniel Byrd
Welcome to our first ever Kids on Bikes blog! I’m honored to kick things off and look forward what’s to come for this space as we revisit an important question: Why the bike? I am grateful to be part of this organization and for the many selfless, passionate individuals who have helped us become who we are today. Countless community members have served to further develop our simple but critical mission: To inspire and empower all kids to lead healthy, active, and happy lives through bicycling. So what is it that brings so many of us together – volunteers, Board of Directors, and program participants? The bicycle. In this initial blog for Kids on Bikes, I want to share more about my personal answer to “why the bike?”
I feel I could easily write a novel on this topic, since the bicycle has shaped so much of who I am – my career and my day-to-day lifestyle. For now, I’ll refrain from writing my novel, but we’ll cover other important subjects like health, transportation, fun, and adventure in future editions.
I grew up here in Colorado Springs, riding my bike to school, the park, friends houses, my neighborhood 7-11, and jumping off questionably built bike ramps made out of two-by-fours and plywood. I can remember all of my childhood bicycles, typically used, but always new to me. My brother, six years older, taught me how to fix a flat tire in our garage and whenever I had a few dollars and needed something for the bike, I’d hop on my by bike and ride to Ted’s Bicycles a mile down the street. In 5th grade I bought my first bicycle from my brother’s friend, a GT Mach One BMX bike for $100. I loved that pink and chrome beauty. About a year after I bought that bike, my friend and I had our bikes stolen off his front porch one summer day. That loss was devastating and is something I still vividly remember whenever I’m talking with kids about the importance of locking up your bike.
I never replaced the BMX bike, but once I got into middle school I started riding Palmer Park trails on a mountain bike with my friends. I bought my first mountain bike, a Mtn. Tek Traverse, and rode it for two years all over Palmer Park, Black Forest, and around Rampart Reservoir. Later, when I was about 14, I saved up and bought a brand new Specialized Hardrock from Criterium. Other than playing ice hockey, there was nothing that brought me more joy than riding my mountain bike.
When I left for college, the bike came with me and served mostly as a means of transportation. I was able to get out and ride trails once in a rare while. This was when I developed my love for what I have affectionately termed ‘solo-missions.’ I had my old Specialized Hardrock, a simple backpack, nalgene, and a general sense of direction that if I headed towards the mountains from the front range I was probably heading west-ish. I took only what I was able to fit into or onto my backpack, which wasn’t more than some granola bars, extra water, a bible, fresh t-shirt, tent, and my sleeping bag. I rode until it was getting dark, pitched my tent, had an awesome nights’ sleep, and then went back down the trail in the morning ready to take on the world. While I’m not necessarily endorsing this method, these trips played an invaluable role in my life, almost acting as a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts. The intent of these rides was to get into nature, and often it seems the longer and more off the beaten path the better. For me, there’s a need to get away from it all, no technology, no schedule, and to carry just enough to survive rather than all the comforts we surround ourselves with. Anyway, I’ll probably share more on this in a future post.
While I always enjoyed riding and the opportunity it gave me to get out into nature, it wasn’t until a much more tragic chapter of my life that the bicycle became much more defining to who I am.
Fast forward a year or so and my beautiful wife, Sarah, and I had just got married when my older brother and best friend took his life. My lifelong buddy, best man at my wedding, and mentor was tragically gone. I was working as a social worker at the time, serving youth experiencing homelessness, and my days were already quite heavy. I knew about the process of grief and then discovered that living it was a whole different reality. Engulfed in grief, I did what I had to for work and carried on in the day-to-day as best I could. During this season, I was faced with suicide on somewhat of a weekly basis given the people I was interacting with, stories my co-workers and I were part of, and even participating in relevant trainings on the subject from time to time. Suicide was always looming and my grief became all the more challenging.
Thankfully, having been given the opportunity to grow up with access to a bicycle, I had an abundance of positive memories involving the bike. About this time, my good friend Drew had also caught the mountain biking ‘bug’ and had just built up his first single speed mountain bike. During this incredibly intense season of life, Drew took a used, fully rigid mountain bike I had and converted it into a single speed as a gift for me. This bike appealed to me in so many ways. It was simple like my BMX bike as a kid. It was used and rusty, not getting any use at all and then refurbished into something with a chip on its shoulder. It fit my personality and my values. I remember that first ride in Palmer Park on the old rigid mountain bike – it was one of the most exhilarating experiences. I experienced the joy of riding like a kid again and felt the weight on my shoulders drift away. I was hooked.
There were days when I rode before work, during my lunch break, and then again after I got off work. I would push myself so I could feel that glorious pain in my lungs and legs, which then helped me create space for peace and fun. These rides gave me the outlet I needed to go through all the phases and steps associated with loss and trauma: anger, sadness, questioning, etc. My rides allowed me to gain perspectives I would otherwise have missed. I rode in groups, by myself, and even started to participate in some local cross-country races. I’ll never forget one particular race at Cheyenne Mountain State Park several years ago. Racing my converted rigid single speed, I had managed to pull ahead of everyone on the last lap and I knew, pending a flat tire or going over the handlebars, I was going to win the race. For years, I was unable to shed any tears for my brother and the pain I carried. That day and this particular ride was different. The combination of the sunshine, riding, endorphins, and my family being there to support me, was so cathartic. I laughed out loud from the joy of riding and had the most overwhelming sense that my brother was watching me and that he was proud. I had tears fill my eyes on my final descent. Those tears have remained to be the most memorable, happy, and slightly dangerous tears of my life – remember, I am racing down a mountain trail afterall. Nevertheless, these were the healthiest tears I’ve ever shed. I finally felt some peace and joy and knew it was all going to be okay.
So, back to the question: Why the bike? Well, that’s a loaded question for me, but it’s a conversation I always love having. My personal experiences riding are what give me passion for bringing the joy of bicycling to kids, one bike, one ride, and one mile at a time.
So- now it’s your turn – I would love to hear from you on ‘Why the bike?’ email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org