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Aaaaand...We're off!

It felt pretty natural to get back into the rhythm of riding bikes with kids again last week. I was nervous though; Barb Mills, my PE partner, is still out of school while recuperating from surgery. I have come to understand that one of the most crucial aspects of running Riding For Focus successfully is building a solid team to help out. When I found out that Barb would be out in the fall, I reached out to some other teachers and community members. Amazingly, I have two parents who are expert riders joining me each morning session, and a fellow teacher/rider/friend joining me for the afternoon session. In all, we have 42 students riding this fall, three days a week. 

Year two of teaching the riding curriculum is going smoother than year one did. I have a better sense of what to expect, and how much I can realistically cover during each session. I'm also the guy who works on all the bikes, so knowing them well makes it easier to do small tweaks while out in the field.

The kids are a…
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California Dreaming

This summer I had the distinct honor of being invited to Specialized headquarters in Morgan Hill, California to help train the newest crop of Riding For Focus Program Champions and to present at the Riding For Focus Research Summit at Stanford University. When I got the phone call from Dave Wood, the Director of Program Management for TSF, I was (of course) on my way back from my local bike shop, having picked up a new cassette and chain for my road bike. Even though my summer calendar was already packed, I knew that I would find a way to make it out to Morgan Hill.

The entire event was so densely packed with information and amazing activities that it's difficult to pinpoint  one favorite part, but here goes. Meeting all of the educators from around the country who received the RFF grant and have a shared passion for embracing physical activity as an integral part of education was inspirational. Getting to know these kindred spirits and hearing their stories and aspirations left m…

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…

PUMP

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. 
We…

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…