By Mike Aldax, Mike Kinney and Rafael Lima
On MLK Jr. Day in Richmond, 15-year-old Dynel Bailey set out on a search for local underserved kids who lacked a bicycle.
His goal? Bring them over to Rich City Rides, the popular local bicycle store and hub, where they could receive a free bike.
The benevolent mission only begins to reveal how special Dynel is, according to his teacher Sal Morabito, who instructs special education students with severe disabilities at Kennedy High.
For the last three years, Dynel and his brothers have been homeless, Morabito said. Despite his situation, Dynel “never complains” and always presents a positive outlook.
Dynel’s positivity has been credited, in some part, to programs offered by Rich City Rides (RCR), a bicycling advocacy organization that operates a popular sales, rentals and repair shop at 1500 Macdonald Ave. The store opens Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.
Founded in 2012, RCR’s bicycle retail/repair business is a tool the organization uses to create positive community change. RCR has repaired and donated over 1,200 bicycles to local residents in need, mostly youth. It offers bike repair skills training to community members and holds regular social rides as a way to promote the benefits of cycling and to advocate for a robust cycling trails network in the city.
Such programs have created constructive spaces for young people like Dynel.
While in 7th grade, Dynel stopped by Rich City Rides hoping to have his cousin’s bike repaired. He saw a large number of people in front of the store preparing to go on a group ride. He asked if he could join, but didn’t have a bike.
Rich City Rides did far more than lend him one.
“They told him that if he rides with them for the next four weeks, the bike will be his to keep,” Morabito said. “Since then, him and his younger brother Jakorey Robinson, a sixth grader now, became regulars at the Sunday and Friday evening rides.”
Under guidance from RCR co-founder Najari Smith, Dynel learned to fix and put a bike together. Today, Dynel is one of a number of young bicycle enthusiasts using their new skills to pay it forward in the community.
An article in KPIX-5, which announced Smith as a winner of the prestigious Jefferson Award for volunteerism, said Dynel’s confidence has increased at RCR.
“People that don’t know how to fix bikes, I can help them fix (their) bike,” Dynel said in an interview with the news station.
Morabito says he sees that confidence in his classroom.
“Having Dynel in our classroom is like having an extra teacher,” Morabito said. “When we are outdoor during our community based [gardening] instruction he is showing others how to mulch, weed, and prune branches. The same inside our classroom.”
The teacher added, “Dynel is my hero.”
FILLING THE VOID
Build it and they will come. But in the case of Rich City Rides, what was built was already there.
Before RCR came to be, there were plenty of folks around Richmond riding and repairing bicycles. They were doing it in their garages, driveways, on the street.
“There was a void for a real certified bike shop in the heart of Richmond,” said Taye McGee, co-owner, lead technician and bicycle production manager at RCR.
“One of my brothers was in a storage unit fixing bikes, I was on the street at skate parks fixing bikes, and another was in their home fixing bikes and selling them online,” McGee said. “All together, we had a bike shop.”
Smith had the forward-thinking idea of developing space the local cycling community could use as a hub.
RCR has since become more than a hub. Its website boasts a growing list of programs and services that aim, in large part, to get more residents to participate in the healthy, environmentally-friendly activity of bicycle riding.
RCR operates a youth Earn-a-Bike Apprentice program where local kids can obtain mechanic skills and self-confidence while working on team projects. Through their participation, they earn bikes and bike safety accessories, like helmets.
RCR also has a bike club at Kennedy High, as well as a program that assists low-income commuters who rely on bikes to get to work. A partnership with the East Bay Regional Park District’s Community Outreach Outdoor Program has RCR leading weekend camping and day trips in area parks.
“This is an amazing organization that works with the people in the community, gets them out on their bikes,” said Laura Haynes, a film production supervisor and RCR volunteer. “It’s super inclusive. All ages, all abilities. We don’t leave anyone behind.”
The Rich City Rides community was busy on MLK Jr. Day – but not at their hub on Macdonald Avenue.
Rather, they were repairing future donated bikes at its emerging new hub. This hub is poised to open at the new Unity Park on the Richmond Greenway, Ohio Avenue at 16th Street.
RCR is already an avid user and promoter of the Greenway, a former rail corridor that has transformed in recent years into a pedestrian and cycling trail. The organization has adopted a spot on the Greenway, where it hosts monthly park cleanups. Nearby, a new BMX park, called Dirt World, has opened.
Now, a storage structure at Unity Park will mean a more prevalent presence for the cycling community.
McGee calls it RCR’s secondary hub where cyclists along the Greenway can stop by to perform maintenance, repairs and to be part of the growing community. The aim is to identify an attendant to open the spot at least three times a week, he said.
“This is going to be a spot for anyone needing some type of bike care,” McGee said. “Maybe you don’t have the means, maybe you just want to work on it yourself, maybe you want to teach your kids.”
Once your bike is ready to go, you’ll have plenty of ground to test it out.
“Off you go on this Greenway trail, where it goes from 2nd Street all the way up to 23rd while barely touching a street,” McGee said.