Equality on Wheels
By Alexandra W. Jones
Whether you are riding a bike or navigating life, balance is essential. That’s what Taylor Kuyk-White, professional cyclist and the manager of the Bicycle Coalition Youth Cycling program (BCYC), teaches her students.
The Philadelphia program, which serves students ages 12 to 18, aims to help build healthy habits and leadership skills through cycling. It takes place after school and is run in collaboration with schools and community centers across the city.
In addition to her job at the coalition, Kuyk-White also races bikes. This year, she competed in three different primary disciplines at the competitive level. She landed this job in 2016, about a year after she’d caught a bug for the world of road, cyclocross, and mountain bike tournaments.
When the position opened up with BCYC, she jumped at the chance to combine her passions for cycling and youth development.
“Competitive cycling is a very expensive, very exclusive, very white, very male sport,” she explains. “Binding together with individuals and communities that are working to break down some of those barriers and build momentum in terms of what the future of the sport looks like is a bigger fuel to me than just getting better results.”
BCYC began in 2007 as Cadence Youth Cycling and became a branch of the Bike Coalition in 2013. Over the past few years, Kuyk-White says it’s grown significantly. Three years ago it had 89 youth members— this year it has 137.
According to Kuyk-White, much of her work involves empowering students to determine how cycling will help them. She trains the 4 to 15 BCYC-employed coaches, provides the equipment and occasionally practices with the them.
Students who have been on a team year after year fill in roles as team captains and junior coaches. The teens enjoy having something that holds them accountable to their goals and expectations in life, she says.
The students seem to agree.
“I enjoy the environment,” says Lurena Watkins, 15, who has been in the program for two years. Watkins enjoys the races and “having people there that support you even if they don’t know you.”
Students started practicing for the fall season in September and will continue twice a week throughout the school year.
Although it’s exciting to be able to do the work they do on the bike, it’s not just about cycling, Kuyk-White says.
As Jahmiel Jackson, 16, a two-year veteran, puts it: BCYC is a platform where young athletes can be ambitious and challenge themselves, each in their own way. Whether it’s working on time management by getting to practice on time or employing the self-discipline any competitive sport requires.
BCYC is something different to each student who participates. Yes, some train with the intention of becoming professional cyclists, and some use it as a way to make friends while enjoying a bike ride. Others use the program as a motivational tool to do well in school.
“The end goal,” Kuyk-White says, “is defined by the youth themselves.”