Road bike. Mountain bike. BMX bike. Heck indoor cycling in a gym on a trainer… School visits are awesome but if you put a group of young men and/or women who want to make a living racing their bikes in front of a gaggle of elementary school kids your perspective on the sport changes in at least three ways.
Firstly, your audience is wriggling. Making faces. Leaning against friends. You have to bring the swagger if you want 5 minutes of attention. And if you’re battling, you can buy 1-2 minutes of focus from the front row if you raise your voice with the authoritative tone of someone who is empowered to reprimand. We had all that going on at Kimberly Elementary in Redlands. Our soigneur, Sara Pearse, played MC like someone who has learned well from years of rigorous piano lessons and tough librarians… and the riders had no problem asking questions or showing off their fancy Van Dessel bikes.
Secondly, you have to believe in what you’re doing: providing young kids with role models to encourage them to exercise, ride bikes and play outside. If you don’t have that conviction, most children will see right through you. We are not out to change the world with school visits, but the fact that the organizers of the Redlands Bicycle Classic arrange for all sorts of teams to do school visits each and every year… we think that’s great and that it adds up by making visible an active cycling community/social life to kids. So we can perform and we believe in what race organizers are doing to build the cycling community.
Thirdly, and this is more complicated, you have to recognize why you feel old riding a bike in front of an elementary school. Yes, even our 18-year-olds are ancient compared to the 8 year old grade 2 students. And yes, there’s something nostalgic about talking with kids about riding a bike and the sense of freedom that comes with it. But the whole project of presenting role models to kids, presenting young adults who care about and construct their social lives around having fun outdoors, fair play, health, cycling games… this harkens back to an earlier time when being a role model was a necessity if you wanted to participate in public life. In fact it used to be part of the education of children at school but also after school. So presenters feel old during school visits because they are double-edged: they promote cycling but they also promote an “old-school” vision of public life where kids are consciously mentored. Within this old school peer mentoring, kids are taught they have the right to choose various ways of living, not simply what is a good life and what is bad. This somewhat liberal project, it seems to me, has been diminished of late.
Back in the day… if you were a kid during the 1970s, televisions were small and there weren’t many channels but ABC introduced the “After School Special”: a series of moralistic shows for kids that engaged with socially relevant topics of the day. It was a time when television networks felt they had a role to play in molding young kids into young citizens who would be tolerant of social differences. Now you can rightfully critique or even mock the moralism and civil society of the After School Special but at least the children in that series were role players in complex social situations. These days (said this old man in a rocker), today’s tv kids are often portrayed as victims of simple, violent contexts in need of protection from the zombied or pseudo-medieval life of adults. They see dead people. I’d rather they see cyclists.
I’m not trying to make school visits more grandiose than they are, but our visit to Kimberly Elementary is part of what we mean when we use the term “devo” alongside Floyd’s Pro Cycling. We’re trying to develop cycling in general. Hopefully our school visit was good for the kids, good for our team and a ‘swaggared’ reminder of not simply the open road, but rather being gregariously open to the approach of others. #cyclinglife