Bike New York Student Ambassadors to Ride in TD Five Boro Bike Tour For First Time

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Graduates of free bike education program go from zero to five boroughs in world’s largest charitable bike ride

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Cyclists embarking on last year's 40-mile, car-free journey

The stories of these new cyclists (and the teachers and volunteers who encouraged them), who will get to experience the event that made it possible for them to learn, are inspiring in their own right.

For many cyclists, this year’s TD Five Boro Bike Tour (May 3) will be their first; for some, it will be their first large-scale organized ride ever. The nonprofit Bike New York has invited 20 New Yorkers who have recently benefited from its free bike education program (funded in large part by proceeds from the Tour) to participate in this 40-mile, car-free, bucket-list event now in its 38th year. This diverse group would make for excellent human interest stories or provide great supporting quotes for a piece on the largest free urban bike education program in the world, with the largest organized bike ride in North America as the newspeg. Examples include:

  •     Lebogang Mokwena, a Sunnyside, Queens, resident who came to New York City from Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2014 to earn her Masters degree in sociology at the New School, recognizes that learning how to ride a bike means much more than feeling safe and confident on NYC streets: “It's reminded me that we should never allow ourselves to plateau, or think that we are too old to do anything new,” she says. “Learning something new is not only useful, it's an important way of shifting our own expectations of ourselves and what we are capable of.” Lebogang actively participated in South Africa’s post-apartheid transformation and plans to return there with a PhD and work in academia or the social sector—and bicycling may play a role. “This experience has made me think about how awesome a Bike Johannesburg would be,” she says. “Perhaps when I go back to my home country, I'll be inspired to help start one up!”
  •     Doug Grabiner, 54, discovered Bike New York in 2013. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, and currently residing in Manhattan, Doug had never learned how to ride a bike and had “resigned [himself] to the notion that biking was this fun, healthy activity [that he] could only watch others do.” Upon learning about Bike New York’s free bike education program, however, “a whole, wide, amazing world of biking magically opened before me,” he says. “I pedaled up the ladder from the Learn to Ride—Adults class to Bicycling Basics to a Bike Path Cruise Ride to the Street Skills Class.” He now bikes three times a week and is looking forward to his first organized ride: the TD Five Boro Bike Tour.
  •     Sadia “Sawrna” Swarna, an 18-year-old student at the International High School at Union Square—part of a network of public schools for recent immigrants—hails from Bangladesh. For a long time, she was made fun of by her relatives for not knowing how to ride a bike, and vowed to acquire the skill. Luckily for her, Meredith Klein, a math teacher at her school, discovered Bike New York’s After School Program, set up a “bike club,” and encouraged Sawrna to join. Now Sawrna believes, “If I have courage... it’s possible to succeed in life. It is possible to finish anything if I try hard and get the opportunity and support.” She will put her newfound philosophy to the test on May 3rd.
  •     Khadim Lo, 20, also a senior at International High School at Union Square, is a recent immigrant from a village in Senegal—where he studied at a Koranic school for six years—and relies on biking to cope with the emotional and financial stresses of adapting to his new home. Upon graduation, the aspiring filmmaker plans to attend college, and will undoubtedly make cycling a part of his life. It was Khadim who first asked Ms. Klein about the possibility of implementing a bike education program in their school, as he had never learned how to ride—and now he not only rides bikes, he repairs them. He recently traveled to the Youth Bike Summit in Seattle to show a short documentary he made about his school’s bike program, and will be filming his experience at this year’s TD Five Boro Bike Tour from a tandem bike.

“The TD Five Boro Bike Tour is a celebration of our collective passion and the community that that passion creates,” says Ken Podziba, President & CEO of Bike New York. “Our free bike education classes are where we pass the torch to those who will celebrate with us in years to come.” Last year alone, Bike New York empowered more than 16,000 New Yorkers with the skills they need to ride safely and confidently. The stories of these new cyclists (and the teachers and volunteers who encouraged them), who will get to experience the event that made it possible for them to learn, are inspiring in their own right.

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Samuel Slaton
Bike New York
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