Today’s lesson: fixing the brakes on your bike. At Seatac’s Global Connections High School, students participating in the Major Taylor Project’s Earn-A-Bike program spend six weeks learning how to repair a bike, and at the end of the session, they get to keep it.
“My bike got stolen so I need a new bike and I thought that this would be a really good way to learn to fix my bike and get a new one,” said 14-year-old freshman, Dylon Martin.
Major Taylor Project assistant Liz Johnson says the program exists in several south end schools, where a lot of families can’t afford to buy their kid a bike.
“This allows the opportunity for students who are disenfranchised already to maybe get a job that’s three miles way from their house. At this school in particular we have a lot of students for whom English is their second language. With something like mechanics, it’s really hands on. If you can watch and learn by example, and get your hands on your own bike, then they can learn anyway. They can become fluent in the language of bikes without having that language barrier that I know exists in a lot of the other courses that they take throughout the day.”
The program was named after Major Taylor, the first African American professional cyclist, born in the late 1800’s. All the bikes are donated, and each student gets to pick one out.
“It’s pink and purple which is nice. It’s small because I’m small,” said 17-year-old Elizabeth Lopez, who moved to Washington from Mexico four years ago.
“When we first got them we were like, ‘What! These are the bikes we’re getting?’ But then, we learned to fix them up and they look like $600 bikes!” Dylon said. “We fix their brakes, the wheels, the handlebars, the seat, everything. They supply everything we need like the brake pads, the tires.”
Fixing a bike is an empowering thing for all the kids, perhaps slightly more so for the ladies.
“Especially because, not even my dad knows how to fix a bike,” Elizabeth laughed.
Seventeen-year-old Rafael Ramos is fixing up a bike from the confines of his wheelchair.
“I’m doing Earn-A-Bike because I would like to donate this bike to a kid that doesn’t have a bike so maybe he can use it.”
When Earn-A-Bike is not in session, there is Bike Club, where students can ride together after school, and even attempt to ride the STP – the Seattle to Portland bike ride.
“A bike is an empowering tool,” said ride leader and Earn-A-Bike instructor, Silas Strickland. “It gives these kids a means of getting themselves around on their own power. Because they know how to work on it, they’re able to be fully self-sufficient. Bikes are really easy, cheap ways of getting around.”
As far as a teenage girl’s perspective is concerned, specifically 9th grader Julisa Carmona’s perspective, “It’s a good way of exercising and I heard it fixes your butt. It makes it pretty. So I was like, ‘Okay, then.'”