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Putting it All Together

Today was one of those special days when so much seemed to come together. We are in the middle of week #5 of this spring's Riding For Focus session, and we have worked hard on learning about many aspects of cycling. But we have also pushed outside the set curriculum. We have: 
Ventured onto trails to learn mountain biking techniquesRidden with bike-commuters during Bike to Work WeekCleared trailsShaped and rock-picked the pumptrackLearned basic field repairsBecome acquainted with the local trail systemMade new friends Today I took my eighth graders out onto a section of the Whiskeag Trail known to the mountain bike community as "Gnarcore." It's an appropriate name for this steep jumble of roots, rocks and skinny bridges. I was sure to bring my Wilderness First Responder first aid kit, and I required kids to drop their seats to the frames. I also spotted them on tricky sections and even had them walk the bikes in the most high-consequence spots. I was proud of their wi…
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The pump track isn't just for pumping the bike. It only takes a lap or two to bring your heart rate into the training zone, flooding brain cells with oxygen, endorphins and Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a naturally produced protein that enhances the function of nerve cell synapses. In broad strokes, BDNF is released when you exercise, and acts like a cocktail of antidepressants and Attention Deficit Disorder medication rolled into one. Perhaps because it is produced by the body itself, it is more potent and faster acting than any pharmaceutical medicine you can take. 

Dr. John Ratey, a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University, has done extensive research on the measurable benefits of exercise on physical, emotional and intellectual health. You can read this short explanation of his findings or dive deeper by reading one of his excellent books or checking out his website. 

Thanks to Mike Sinyard (CEO of Specialized Bicycle Components) and The Specialized Foun…

It's Bike to Work Week!

Today we had the great pleasure of joining forces with the Bath Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee for its annual bike to work ride.  Around ten community members, led by the committee's chair, Kevin Shute, met us at school at 7:10. All told there were over thirty cyclists pulling out of Bath Middle School this morning. Kevin did a great job of explaining the benefits of commuting by bicycle, but really, he was preaching to the choir. These kids LIVE to ride bikes!
We picked up a few more riders along the way as we passed their houses. It was a quintessential bluebird, New England morning.

We are into our fourth week of Riding For Focus with this group, and they have come to depend on their time on the bike each day. Even with the slew of nasty viruses getting passed around this spring, our attendance has been excellent. 

We have also begun incorporating a bit of trail work here and there. There is a short loop of rooty single track just across the road from school that was blocked in …

Back in the Saddle, Again

The winter weather has held on for a long time this year, and actually continues to hang on. Last night's low was 39˚ and we rode this morning in fog at a temperature of 41˚. Despite the cool conditions, our RFF kids are fired up to ride, each and every day. And it's not just the kids who are fired up. Barb and I both recognize that no matter our mood or energy level, once we climb onto our bikes, everything is better. Not to wax poetic, but it is magical. 
The combination of pedaling in rhythm, leaning into curves and feeling the wind on your face changes your attitude. Thanks to the research of people like Dr. John Ratey, we know that exercise changes us for the better at the cellular level. I am excited to get six weeks of riding under our belts so we can look for any changes in student attitudes, attendance and performance. A number of teachers have already shared anecdotal evidence of RFF kids being happier to be at school, and even improving their grades and work ethic. 

Preparing the Herd

It's great to have friends in the right places. 

I have four pals who happen to be expert bike mechanics (three of whom are professionals), and I asked them to help us go through our Riding For Focus Specialized hardtails on Tuesday night. We were joined by six middle school students as we prepared the bikes for the fast-approaching riding season. Our newly created repair space with five stations was abuzz with activity as we tightened headsets, trued wheels, adjusted cable tensions, lubed chains and inflated tires. 

The bikes are holding up well, so we were able to blast through them pretty quickly. Lee Huston, the owner of our fantastic retail partner shop, Center Street Cycles, was great to have on hand since he built the bikes. Lee is a standout teacher, patient, clear and a humble mechanical genius. We also had Matt Viara and Mark Wheeler from Bath Cycle and Ski and Tom Mills, the husband of my Riding For Focus teaching partner, PE teacher Barb Mills. 

Looking around the room at…

Routine Maintenance

Living in Maine, we have some real thermal challenges in the winter months. There are more than a few of us who own fatbikes and push through the season with toe-warmers, overboots, goggles and bar mitts, but taking teenagers out into the arctic conditions without proper clothing and studded tires is a non-starter.
So we asked ourselves: what can we do to maintain the energy we have built around cycling during the months when it's tough to get out there? We think we may have come up with an answer.
Our friends at The Chewonki Foundation, our amazing partner in many place-based, environmental learning initiatives,  reached out to us after we received the Riding For Focus grant from The Specialized Foundation. They were excited about the program and asked if there was a way they could get involved with it. I had met a teacher from Sacramento while at the RFF training in August who offered expert advice and resources for building a school-based bike repair program. Using his list of re…

Under A Blanket of White

The weather this past fall was so uncharacteristically warm that it was hard to imagine we would be where we are now. Daily high temperatures have been in the single digits since Christmas day, and lows have dipped into the negative double digits some nights. The undulations of the pump track have been transformed into a graceful sculpture by the blowing and drifting snow, rendering it both beautiful and unridable.

As the owner of a fatbike, I have been able to make use of the local snowmobile trail network, but the latest snowfall still needs some more compaction before it will be ridable again. 

In the meantime, we have been thinking about the spring's Riding For Focus programming. We are weighing the benefits and limitations of a single morning session, and contemplating adding a second session in the afternoon. All those beautiful bikes are itching to be ridden, so we are trying to creatively carve more time out of the day. 

We are also in the beginning stages of planning our in-…