Nonprofit Brings Bikes, Cycling Confidence to Boys & Girls Club

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Christina Solorzano of Ghisallo Cycling Initiative adjusts the helmet of Isaac Lopez, 7.

“Does anyone remember the five steps for helmets?” Cristina Solorzano asked the group standing in front of her on Friday morning.

Nine small voices started chattering at the same time. Solorzano listened for a minute, then took her own helmet and demonstrated how to put the helmet on and fit it properly. She watched the children mimic her movements.

Solorzano is one of two community educators from Austin-based nonprofit Ghisallo Cycling Initiative, which works to give youths cycling skills and confidence. Solorzano and fellow community educator Carl Bradtmiller rounded up nine children Friday morning from the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio at Mays Family Clubhouse for a biweekly bike club ride. They aim to bring both outdoor fun and instill a sense of responsibility in the riders. Every ride, they walk the kids through bicycle safety checks and make sure everyone had a water bottle for the ride.

The Boys & Girls Club at Mays Family Clubhouse runs a summer program from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day but is switching to after-school hours starting Wednesday. For the past four Mondays and Fridays, Bradtmiller and Solorzano have guided summer club members on bike rides along the San Pedro Creek trail.

Ghisallo Cycling Initiative started operating in San Antonio last autumn, so this was the first summer bike club that Ghisallo has hosted in the city, Bradtmiller said. Ghisallo also brings its cycling classes to schools in San Antonio.

Bradtmiller said Ghisallo provides bicycles in all kids programming. They also bring helmets and reusable water bottles marked with each kid’s name for riders to use.

“A lot of times, with other bike programming, you have to have a bike and have to bring that bike to the event,” Bradtmiller said. “That right there can be enough of an obstacle to reduce participation for a lot of kids.”

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Ghisallo Cycling Initiavie’s Christina Solorzano leads Boys & Girls Club cyclists along the San Pedro Creek trailway.

The group set out in a single-file line up the San Pedro Creek and Apache Creek trailways Friday morning. The morning heated up quickly, and Solorzano and Bradtmiller stopped for water breaks in the shade. They continued at an easy pace to Cassiano Park, where they spent half an hour on the playground, playing hopscotch after drawing squares with chalk, and resting.

All nine kids said on Friday that they liked participating in Ghisallo’s bike club because it let them spend time outside.  They all live too far from the clubhouse, which is southwest of Lone Star neighborhood, to access the trails easily and don’t get to ride along the creeks without the assistance of Ghisallo instructors. 

“It’s fun because I get to see the river,” 10-year-old Mateo said. “I really like the river. I like bike riding with a group.

“When you ride, you get to see what it was like in the old days,” he added. “It’s pretty beautiful outside.”

Anya, 11, agreed. 

“It’s fun and we get to see more areas that we’ve never seen before,” she said.

Though the bike club focuses on bicycle safety and skills, Ghisallo aims to empower kids to feel comfortable enough to use bikes for transportation, Bradtmiller said.

“[There are] three touchstone words we like to talk about: exploration, navigation, and transportation,” Bradtmiller said. “With the bike club, we’re getting kids out in their community, exploring their trails in their neighborhoods. Then we’re giving them the ability to run with that if they choose and kind of keep doing that on their own.”

Amanda Garcia, the branch director of Mays Family Clubhouse’s Boys & Girls Club, said she admired the emphasis Ghisallo places on teaching kids to be responsible for their own safety.

“They told them they’re the one responsible for checking their bikes, putting on helmets correctly,” Garcia said. “They went over it in the beginning how to do it and it gives them responsibility in themselves. As adults, a lot of times we want to teach them, but [sometimes] we don’t give them the skills necessary to do things on their own.”

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The bike club crosses Furnish Avenue during the ride to Cassiano Park.

Monday was the bike club’s last meeting at Mays Family Clubhouse. Garcia said she has not yet spoken to Ghisallo about continuing the club throughout the school year, but she said she would love to keep it going in some capacity. Garcia was the first Boys & Girls Club staff member to chaperone the bike club riders on their inaugural ride in early July.

“It was awesome,” she said. “I hadn’t ridden a bike in years and I thought it was an amazing time. And the kids had so much fun.”

At Cassiano Park, Bradtmiller watched Solorzano hopping on one foot between chalk lines as some of the kids cheered her on. Riding a bike opens up a child’s world, he said. They feel like they can get to more places on their own.

“It’s really simple,” he said. “It’s just a bike ride.”

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