At some high schools, teens are learning the ins and outs of one very affordable mode of transportation: bicycles.
The programs, in which teens learn how to fix and maintain bikes, as well as explore career opportunities in the cycling industry, have popped up at schools nationwide.
“I like fixing bikes. I’m really interested in how to fix it,” says Nicholas Henderson, 17, an 11th-grader at Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore. Henderson is a longtime member of the school’s after-school bike club.
He’s learned how to put wheels back on a bike and can fix a bike’s brakes as well, he says, along with other skills.
“A lot of students that maybe don’t always shine in the classroom, really shine in the garage,” says Melissa McDonald, a teacher at the school and a sponsor of the voluntary activity that got started four years ago. It got off the ground due to teachers and students gathering support from the community – they wrote grants and letters, visited bike shops and more.
After spending about an hour each Wednesday on bike mechanics, the club goes on a bike ride for about 45 minutes, she says.
And students can take a bike home if they dedicate enough hours to working in the garage.
It’s a positive activity for students in a city that doesn’t have a lot of after-school programs, she says.
But bike tech programs aren’t limited to after-school activities. Some districts are sponsoring high school bike tech classes for credit.
“We are using a bicycle and the conversation through working on a bicycle to mentor these kids,” Steven Charles, executive director of the organization overseeing the program, told the publication.
In California, students are preparing for college and careers in the bicycle technology courses offered at several high schools in Santa Cruz County, says Mark Hodges, director of the county’s regional occupational program, which oversees the classes.
Students study core academics, like geometry, in the context of bicycle maintenance, production, marketing and design, he says.
The program started about seven years ago when Berri Michel, an owner of a local bike company, approached the county. Michel’s company has an educational outreach program called Project Bike Trip that sponsors the classes in Santa Cruz schools.
At Westbrook High School in Maine, students are also learning about core academics, like science, through their work on bikes, says Shannon Belt, teacher of the school’s bike tech class.
“So much of what happens on a bicycle is all related to physics,” he says. “Friction in terms of stopping. Gear ratios for shifting. Levers and pulleys for brakes. The whole bike apparatus in itself is one big physics model.”
Students can earn either a science or elective credit for their participation in the class, which mainly focuses on bike maintenance, repair and riding safety.
His goal is to help his students realize that bikes aren’t just a toy, but a method of transportation.
“I work in a very at-risk population, he says. “A lot of times a bike can be a way to get to a job, it can be a way to get to see friends. It can be a mobility and so treating the bike with a little more respect as an actual vehicle, sort of changes some of their outlook on how they work with them.”
The class gives his students a space where they can learn to fail, Belt says. Many of the bikes students work on in the class are beater bikes – they need a lot of love – the students can’t really break them, but they can think critically to fix them.
“It really gets them to use their brain to think differently, to problem solve,” he says. Students can use the tools they gain in the class in their own personal life to help find solutions to other struggles.
“I really try to use the bike as an avenue to help kids on the bigger picture and the bigger scale of how to deal with issues in their own life.”