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Bike-A-Demics . . . .
Motivating and Counseling with Bikes

Martin Kimeldorf
Martin Kimeldorf
  Copyright Notice

  This is an excerpt from:
  An instructor's guidebook for bike education  

It doesn't matter what shape your bike studies take. You might be starting a bike class, lab, unit of instruction, seminar, or club. No matter how humble the beginnings, you will soon discover the tremendous power that comes from teaching a subject that students find extremely interesting. Perhaps this is the reason many alternative education programs are re-discovering bike education. Recreation leaders have taken to the bike path when they want to reinvigorate family or geriatric recreation programs. Bike clubs have reached out to younger riders, the next generation, as they pass the torch. And counselors take their clients into a bike shop to tinker and to talk. Discover the motivational and counseling powers which flow from working on bikes, studying bike culture, and going for rides together.

Motivating with two wheels

In the 1974-75 school year, I was an Industrial Education major at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. I applied for and got a work-study position as coordinator of a new program serving adjudicated youth. The official name was the NYPUM Project, and it was sponsored by the campus YWCA/YMCA program. The following article gives a glimpse of what we set out to do.
Mini-bike course is ride to adventure
By Katherine Keniston
Corvallis Gazette-Times, Monday March 3, 1975
Martin Kimeldorf  

Seated aside a mini-bike, NYPUM creator Martin Kimeldorf gives the youngsters a lesson in interior decorating during a lab.
The mysteries of mufflers and carburetors aren't quite so mysterious anymore. Neither is the problem of how to fill some of those free hours of adolescence.
The Y Round Table, a service program at Oregon State University, is using mini-bikes as a vehicle for giving youngsters an experience that's fun, educational and positive. In the program, a selected group of youngsters spends spare hours riding mini-bikes and learning all the mechanical intricacies that make them purr.
But there's more to it than mini-bikes. Now the program has shifted gears.
Started in the fall of 1973 as a riding activity, the program this school year has headed off into new directions--career education, culture, athletics, field trips in the community. It's called NYPUM (National Youth Project Using Mini-Bikes): Alternative Education Project.
The program was created "for kids who don't have all the advantages and opportunities that some other kids have," said Martin Kimeldorf, creator of the expanded program. "It gives the youngsters an opportunity to explore the world about them in exciting ways," he said.
Financed by the Y Round Table, the program is staffed by OSU students who earn academic credit for their work. Most of the students, including Kimeldorf, are Industrial Education majors.

I brought to the program my fevered curiosity for technology, history and art. With others, I re-structured the program to integrate liberal and technical arts. The adjudicated youth enrolled in our program and were hooked by the mini-bike riding and repair. They also grew to like our basement-classes on subjects ranging from interior decorating, career education to poetry writing and history. We produced muddy kids, a book of poetry, and many success stories still worth telling.

Twenty-five years later, the idea came rolling back into my life and welled up in a bicycle program linking work and academics. In the 1990s, I simply applied my long standing interest in learning-by-do with one of the best educational innovations to hit the chalkboard: integrating subject matter from different disciplines to make learning more powerful. I visualized students using writing, speaking, and hands-on skills to prepare bike reports, bike demonstrations, and bike art work. The subjects in my proposed curriculum included repair and safety, racing and touring, life-long learning, accessories and exercise, bike history and consumerism. (I'm sure that there are many more possibilities.) The beauty of bike technology is that it also incorporates physics, math, health, aesthetics, and environmental appreciation. All of these ideas are now contained in the companion bike book, Bike-A-Demics.

You are not limited to the Bike-A-Demics model. Today there are many experimental programs exploring the high energy alchemy which combines young people with bikes. If you choose to contact these organizations, you'll surely find additional materials and possibly technical support for your program.

Youth bike programs

While I was busy mixing up mini-bikes with adolescent fervor, other people were busy designing bicycle education programs throughout 1970s. These educators, bike enthusiasts and reformers showed young people the connections between repair, riding techniques, careers, business, and the environment. Often the programs were offered after-school or as part of community based recreation or service programs. Now, in the 1990s, a few programs have deepened their connection to educational institutions by forming partnerships with public schools and universities.

Earn-A-Bike programs are one of the more popular formats in use today. This model first surfaced around 1988 in Indianapolis and St. Louis. The participants recondition a used bike or rebuild a bike from donated parts. This usually takes the young people about 25 hours and includes instruction and testing in the cognitive as well as the psycho-motor domains. At the end of the process, the young person gets to keep the bike.

Just as sports teams require a certain scholastic performance to remain eligible, bike programs also link participation in their program to academic performance. Other programs also add an entrepreneurial unit. Students run a neighborhood bike shop and in the process increase their employability. In addition to mechanical skills, participants learn about business communication, customer service, leadership, and computer techniques.

In 1994 several organizations from around the country decided to affiliate under a common banner Youth Bike Education Network (YBEN). These independent programs offer a wide-ranging learning-menu. Various programs include additional education units on safety, ecology, computer usage, and community service. Youth Bicycle Education Network can be reached at YBEN Midwest Regional Office, 31 East 52nd Street, Indianapolis, IN 46205. The latest web site address is listed as

Counseling with two wheels

Except for tandem riders, most riding is ultimately experienced as an individual adventure. Therefore, it should not be surprising to learn that working on bikes, studying bikes, and riding them leads to internal discoveries which helps to initiate change in one's mental outlook and physical condition. Just as we use plants in horticulture therapy or paint brush and pastels for art therapy, a greasy wrench and a downhill blast through a trail can provide the premise for bike therapy.

Paul Borreson is a school psychologist who works with special needs students in a middle school. The kids he works with often lack verbal skills and motivation. They enter his office either reticent or angry or both. His middle school students distrust most adults, and being sent to the school counselor is not exactly what these students would call a "cool experience."

Building rapport is the first task a counselor faces. It is an essential task! Other counselors have found that they can break down barriers to communication once they invite a "referral" to work with them in a commonly enjoyed activity. For some students, working on a bike is the ticket to the friendship express. As the conversation shifts from personal problems to bikes, it often has a calming effect. As the counselor and student head off for the bike shop, there is a noticeable drop in the tension.

Mr. Borreson views working in a bicycle shop as a medium for working on one's life. Paul wrote in a recent essay:
I use bicycles as metaphors for life's events and our emotional responses to them. For instance, I might compare a teacher's reprimand for inappropriate behavior or rejection from a girl friend to a flat tire, a jumped chain, bent rim, or broken spoke. After straightening a bent rim, I might point out that getting a new girl (or boy) friend is like repairing a bent rim. It looks like an impossible task at first, but if you stick with it, magical things can happen.

Solving problems at the bike repair bench becomes a safe way for rehearsing problem solving in the adolescent's complex world. Making a brake adjustment is difficult for most novice mechanics. Many times a wrench will slip and fingers get pinched. The emotionally fragile student screams, or the aggressive student throws something and curses. Often, at the first hint of difficulty a student says, "I want to quit." Now the counselor has something tangible to discuss. The counselor can lead the student in an analysis of the options for handling the pain and the frustration in the bike lab…as well as in life.

Working with adults follows a similar path. Suppose George tries to avoid a difficult repair such as a derailleur adjustment. The counselor would eventually ask George if he has problems completing other tasks at home or at work. It could begin with a seemingly innocuous discussion which begins with the question, "Why do you think so many people give up at various times in their lives?" Then the conversation could move to a more personal exploration of why the client gives up on relationships. A transition question might be, "What do you think about when you break up with someone?" As George discuss his behaviors and begins to see patterns, he progresses to the healing stage. Hopefully, he will enter the point where he is willing to take ownership in a specific problems and develops a plan for change.

The bike-counseling intervention cuts across environments and age. Suppose you are working with an older person suffering from isolation in old age. Perhaps, you have spent the last few weeks in the retirement community's recreation center. You're working with Thelma, trying to repair a donated bike you hope to give away at Christmas. A session could begin with the observation that some people would have just trashed the bike in the garbage. "Thelma, you didn't abandon that bike. Are you known for perseverance?" This could lead to a conversation exploring how Thelma's felt about retrieving the lost bike. The caregiver asks her, "How hard was it to fix the bike? Was it worth it?" This initiates a segue into a discussion about relationships. Towards the end, the counselor asks, "Would it be worth repairing your relationship with your son? Might he not visit you more often?"

Back in the classroom, Paul Borreson reflected on a recent tragedy where a former student committed suicide after suspension for possession of drug paraphernalia. Paul recalled how the student loved to work on bikes. They even went on a few rides together. Wistfully, Paul concluded: I wondered if I might have reached him in the bike shop. We could have compared the suspension to the worst event in a bike rider's life: a bent frame. Yes, it probably means that bike is over with, but not bike riding. I could have explained that there were still many good components left on his bent frame. We'd talk about building a new bike and a new life.

At school, Loren is frustrated by paper and pencil learning, and often acts out or becomes aggressive. It may be Loren's way of distracting the teacher from a learning disability. What the student desperately needs is an alternative learning experience where his other gifts can shine. The bike shop, club, lab, or class can become that learning alternative. Here, the Lorens of this world can discover an inner strength when they finally wheel out the rebuilt bike for its first test ride. Whatever confidence they may have lost due to low test scores, is dissipated in a wind streaming into their face as their bike passes, and even surpasses, their expectations in a final test ride!

In the beginning bike-lab session, it's mostly bike-work and a bit of talk. Over time the bicycle becomes the excuse for visiting and talking. After a few sessions you'll know that your clients or students are coming for more than the smell of the grease or the test ride. They are coming to rebuild their lives.


About the author  

  Martin Kimeldorf,  
© 1998
All Rights Reserved.
Amby Duncan-Carr,
page designer
Printing or downloading a single copy of this document for personal use is permitted; transmission in any form or further duplication is prohibited without the express written consent of the author. In addition, any use of the document code, itself, requires the written permission of the web page designer.

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