Saturday, June 21, 2014

bicycle culture in suburban kansas city

For the last two weeks I was on staff at Machane Jehudah, an experiential Jewish educational program for 3rd-6th graders served up day camp style. This year's theme was Israel, so we studied the history and various people and places around the country. We also had a time in the day where kids would do various "kibbutz" tasks, designed to simulate life on a kibbutz, or collective farming community. One of the tasks in the rotation that kids could choos from was Mercaz Ha-Ofanayyim, or the Bicycle Shop. This had been my idea. The plan was to collect donated bicycles from families at the synagogue, then spend the two weeks of camp cleaning and fixing them up before handing them off to RevolveKC, a bicycle non-profit styled somewhat after Portland's Community Cycling Center. Revolve kindly loaned us some tools and a repair stand so the kids would have what to work with.

My "kibbutz" crew was the smallest at camp, only five boys -- but we had a great time cleaning bikes, learning how to fix flats and troubleshoot safety issues. At the end of the camp, the director of revolvekc came to collect the tools, repair stand and bikes, and the kids felt so proud of what they had accomplished. 

While we worked on the bicycles during our time at camp, we talked about how easy or hard it was to ride a bike in their very sterile, car-centric suburb. They all told me that they had to ride on the sidewalk, and that some elementary schools actively discouraged their students from riding to school out of safety concerns (how terribly sad). They were amazed to learn that in Portland I did not own a car, and rode a bike or took public transit to get around town.  While they agreed that their riding was
curtailed somewhat by places to safely ride, they all told me they loved riding their bicycles when they could. I felt bad for these kids and how sheltered their lives were. I hoped that someday they would find a way to get out of their suburb and explore the wider world -- and bring their bikes along when they did.

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