Fat Tire Friendships

Riding with the Mission Hill Middle School Bike Club

by Dave Robinson

Nov. 6, 2014—Recently I got a call from Tawn Kennedy of the local bike-advocacy group Greenways to School asking if I’d like to join the Mission Hill Bike Club for a Wednesday ride. Heck yeah!

Bike Club is amazing. It’s a chance for about 20 students to get together and pedal locally while interacting and challenging each other. I absolutely love riding with kids. The unbridled energy and lack of distraction ensures that everyone is going to have a good time. It takes me back to my days as a kid on a bike and the relatively carefree attitude that we all had before jobs, rents and relationships.

After a few quick drills on the Mission Hill campus we rolled out to the appropriately named Harvey West Friendship Garden and found a bit of single track and a “sweet jump” (think Napoleon Dynamite). Not everyone wanted to send it but most everyone ending up rolling the two-footer, with a few standouts. I really enjoyed seeing the only girl present warm up to the idea and then go for it.

My favorite was the kid on the oversized (for him) cruiser with coaster brake that wouldn’t stop jumping until I asked him to—the fork of his bike kept on bending further and further with every jump, and I was afraid that it was going to sheer off on his next huck!

Of course in any environment, with 12-15-year-old boys, there is bound to be some conflict. A few boys wouldn’t stop hassling each other and had to be called out. Seeing the window, I jumped in to recount a ride story from the day before with my buddies Brad and Brett.

I met them both in 1990, the year I moved to Santa Cruz. Brett was a housemate and Brad was a windsurfing buddy, but we all shared mountain biking in common. Our ride on the prior evening was the standard—a pedal up through the university with a Wilder descent. Brad had a bigger window than usual from the wife and kids, so our pace was pretty casual, and we picked up another solo riding buddy on the way.

The ride was filled with our usual—some talk of the job and relationships, some good-natured pushing and shoving, and a bunch of sweat. As we popped out in the meadow at Wilder we were silenced for a moment by the panorama of Monterey Bay. Each of us then remarked about what a tough place Santa Cruz is to live. No talk of kids or the job, no complaints about the cost of living or the traffic. Just some thanks for being so fortunate to call Santa Cruz home.

Then I mentioned something about the brewery and we all sprinted off in hot pursuit of each other and a cold beverage.

Our two-decade-long friendship was forged through recreation, with the sweat and the space to ponder our challenges at the core of our riding experience. The opportunity to share these things in the wilderness with my best friends is something that I can’t imagine living without. Medical practitioners universally accept that the best method of preventing stress, heart disease, and dementia is exercise. Santa Cruz’s greatest asset is its natural environment, ocean abutted by mountains with a year-round outdoor recreation climate. Combine these facts and we discover that we have the opportunity to live our very best lives here in Santa Cruz.

The friendships that Tawn’s crew of young riders were building were the healthiest relationships of all. Back at Harvey West I said: “Guys, let's be nice to each other. Chances are a few of you will be friends for a very long time, so let's take it easy on each other and have fun!” And then we got back to the matter at hand, hitting that sweet jump.

These opportunities only exist because people like Tawn and organizations like Greenways and Trips for Kids work to create opportunities for kids to get on bikes. And without the trails that Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz lobby for and build there would be far fewer places to ride. So do us all a favor: Make the time to throw your leg over the saddle and get out and enjoy our trails and the best friends that you may ever have. And when you have the time or means, pitch in and show your thanks to the organizations that make it all possible! Heck, it ain’t all about jobs, rents, and relationships, is it?

Dave Robinson is the membership coordinator of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and co-founder of The Ride Guides, a team of certified instructors who teach bike-handling skills and lead guided trail rides.