Making History…The Hard Way

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Launching the first high school cycling team in Richmond was a tough task.  Doing such out of a school like Armstrong High, was seemingly to most anyone, impossible.  The first day of hanging recruitment posters around the school, a faculty member approached me and Matt, read the poster, and quipped “you may get one or two kids at the meeting…good luck.”

Six weeks later, the Principal at Armstrong High pulled me aside to explain that the cycling team had garnered the most interest and excitement than any other club/sport/activity since her time at the school.  ”How do we get more students on the team?” she asked.  ”We don’t,” I said.  My response startled her.  I continued: “I want to build a legacy at this school—one that is hinged on  a prestigious program— one that the students are proud of— and this can’t be done with an abundance of half-hearted students…It can only be created by a few, who become the beacons of example to many.”  I admit, I knew this question was coming, and so my response was fairly polished.  After five years of working with the exact demographic of student that fills the halls of Armstrong High, and knowing just how physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding cycling is, this wasn’t my first rodeo to produce a successful campaign in our first year.  Below is a photo timeline of how Armstrong Cycling came to be a team, and a snapshot of success in the team’s first year.

Photo: Here We Go!!  The first Armstrong High Cycling Team student- recruitment posters go up in the halls tomorrow!!

  Recruitment Poster 

Photo: Still recruiting, but getting to work early -- Armstrong High Cycling Team's introduction to effort the bike: Running the stairs to the top of Libby Hill--10 times.

First Practice February 6th: Weeding out those who don’t want to work.  It’s hard to select team members for a cycling team, when several have never ridden a mountain bike. Cycling is easy to teach to those willing to work hard.

Photo: Armstrong High Cycling Team finished up their first week on the bikes.  Some great efforts the past 3 days-- From left: Freshman, Antonio negotiates a rutted and steep climb near Chimbo Park.  Junior, Ja'nae climbs Libby Hill.  Freshman, Diamond also climbing Libby Hill. Freshman, Lavone climbs 'Lewis Hill' to the top of Fulton.

First Week on the bikes February 18th:

Photo: Snow Day, schools closed, so we rounded up a few of our Armstrong Cycling Team members in the neighborhood and headed to Chimborazo Park for some fun...and lunch at Union Market afterwards.  Here's Antonio and Diamond two-wheel-sledding:

Our solution to one of the snowiest winters in Richmond history, March 4th:

Photo: Craig: Armstrong Cycling men's team training camp Day 2: Tough day on the bikes.  The crew took to snow-covered mountain bike trials at Greenbriar St. Park, then another 10 mile road ride to the top of South Mountain.  Group shot of Simon, Antonio, Nigel, and Lavone with Matt Crane and Macy at the top of South Mountain.  Nigel bombs a slippery, steep downhill with Macy in tow.  Lavone and Antonio summit South Mountain together.  Be proud of these guys Richmond...Go Armstrong!

Men’s Team Camp in Harpers Ferry, March 8th: Trying to get a group of Armstrong boys to gel.

Photo: Last prep week before Armstrong Cycling's first race!     On Tuesday, in freezing temperatures, with rain, we held a mock-race for the team to work on the scoring system for the VA High School MTB Series (bottom pic).  Wednesday we watched race footage.  Today, the men's team put in a solid 16 mile MTB ride, while Matt had the women work on skill development and race prep throughout Forest Hill.      Lastly, we've made a decision to enter the men's team into the varsity race this Tuesday! Their hard work and ability has been noted, and we think they're ready.  This a HUGE step for this program--one that we thought was a few years away-- but we're going with our gut.  Give it up Richmond...Lavone Lewis and Antonio Goode are leading Armstrong High School into the the big leagues! (Top pic)

The week of practices that showed me we had three boys capable of racing at the Varsity level.  They were shocked (and scared) to hear the news only days out from their first race, March 27th:

Photo: Not willing to compromise the integrity (or rules) of the new Armstrong Cycling Team, we're down to seven members.  Building a legacy on quality and accountability, 5 weeks and 4 races remain for the season....keeping the bar high...who's got what it takes?

Day of first race in Richmond— now down to 7 team members.  We’d lose another two members as we weren’t willing to compromise our rules, April 1st:

Photo: Incredible Day for Armstrong Cycling!  Varsity racers Antonio Goode and Lavone Lewis rode amazing in Roanoke.  Lavone took 25th, and Antonio cracked the top 20!!  The climbing was's Antonio on the final climb of the race.  The progress of these two young men, in just 2 months and 2 races, has been astonishing!

Race #2, Varsity member, Antonio Goode shows he’s got what it takes to compete at a high level— cracking the top 20 (18th place) in Roanoke. 


Race #3, Charlottesville—Sandwiched during Spring Break, and causing us to lose some systematic controls due to a week out of school, the  Armstrong Team came unraveled, with poor results and attitudes.  Five members now remain on the team, April 22nd:


April 28th, this photo and two page story on the revolutionary Armstrong Cycling Team makes the front page of the Richmond Times Dispatch:

Photo: The Armstrong Cycling Girlzzz out yesterday with Matt Crane and Julie Hunter--Rompin and stompin Forest Hill and Belle Isle!


Coaching from Matt Crane and Julie Hunter helps The Armstrong JV girls continue to improve and get more comfortable off-road and on technical singletrack, May 8th:


Race #4, Varsity rider, Antonio Goode, has another breakthrough race, putting him in the elite class of the top 15 in Harrisonburg, May 10th:


After a top 15 two days before, Antonio sets his focus on cracking the top 10 at the State Championships in St. George, May 12th. It’s hard to believe that the toughest kid at Armstrong High is 5’9” and weighs 135lbs:



Race #5, State Championships in St. George— the JV girls put in their best race yet on an extremely treacherous course— caked in mud, their spirits and effort remained high.  The boys had a rough day— having never ridden in thick mud, their new found speed didn’t mix well with bike control and mechanical problems.  Both finished.

Needless to say, the past four months have gone by in a blink.  We had students who’d never dedicated to anything in their life, put in lung-burning, leg-screaming, hard work, in poor conditions; over rocks, roots, and mud; scrapping knees, bruising hips— showing up each week on their own accord.  Some academic grades improved— some didn’t improve.  Some of our students got suspended from school.  All but one had discipline issues at some point during the semester.  None of this truly matters when the real task at hand is re-engineering character traits (especially with teenagers)—  which starts with finding something..anything..anyone..a purpose that motivates a person to show up and put forth effort.  We reached them— and helped them accomplish feats they didn’t think were possible.  For the five members that kept themselves on the team, they, for the first time, felt what true commitment is…to team, to self, to coach.  We now have a base to build from…

Craig Dodson

First of Its Kind

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Now in our 5th year, I knew that RCC had to adjust.  We’ve had some 12 and 13 year olds who’ve been with us for three years.   To our youth, RCC is the biggest commitment they make—even more so than school—and it can (and did) lead to burnout.  For 9-12 months, we hold our youth accountable towards every success and failure they earn.  In rain, cold, mud, 100-degree heat, uphill grinds, and downhill crashes, our youth, on their own accord, show up every week to uphold their commitment to RCC.  We could intuitively feel a plateau with our youth this past year around July—and although incredibly successful by any means, if you’re not dynamic in this line of work, that plateau quickly edges towards a descent. 


I keep a basketball in my truck at all times.  On some weekends, usually Sundays, I’ll do some “youth-freestyling”—which means I head out to Fairfield Court, drive up and down Rosetta St., Phaup St., and Cool Lane to round up whatever RCC youth are roaming around.  On Phaup St. are the courts, and we’ll play pickup games.  Every time I play ball with the youth, I thank my older brother for introducing me to the sport growing up, and my Mom for taking me to countless games and practices.  My ability to play has become a huge catalyst in building rapport with our youth…from Day-1.  On the courts, the youth constantly talk of playing high school basketball.  Whether it’s Henrico High, Armstrong, or being bussed to Thomas Jefferson or Marshall, they see how shooting a ball at busted up, net-less, bent-from-dunking hoops on Phaup St. will help them in the future.  Joining a ‘tribe’ in high school is everything—be it the band, theater group, or athletic team—sitting at the cafeteria table solo is a bust. 

And so, back in September, among a media storm of criticism about the underperformance of Richmond Public Schools, I began to think of a better way to retain our high school youth—while giving our 12 & 13-year olds a target (incentive) to aim for.  Our youth don’t perceive themselves as cyclists (yet)—which is fine by us—but we need to get them to qualify how RCC can be a part of their social-network when social pressures are highest…high school.  90% of high school kids join clubs, teams, activities because they’re looking for social acceptance.  With the majority of RCC youth between the ages of 11-13, it’s hard for our high school youth to feel that RCC has a place within their social parameters.  For our 13 year olds, they’re having a difficult time imagining how RCC will assist their social endeavors when they enter high school in six months. 

A cycling program at a school like Armstrong High will the first of its kind anywhere.  Armstrong is the melting pot to which students from five different public housing neighborhoods converge.  The school is located within the housing project we’ve been working out of for the past four years, Fairfield Court.  It only makes sense for us to try, and so we are.  We don’t know what a program like this can become, or what it will become, but like the past four years of RCC, and if we can run the program our way, we don’t plan on failing. 

 Go Wildcats!

Craig Dodson

Founder & Director

Introducing Lavone Lewis:

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I found my sunglasses on Wednesday—what was left of them—smashed and twisted lying on the ground of our usual RCC meeting spot behind Fairfield Elementary School.  With my head crammed and spinning (in usual fashion) from a multitude of duties running RCC, I had accidentally left my helmet, cycling shoes, and white-rimmed shades behind after Monday’s training ride.  Lavone had just walked up when I found the remnants of my sunglasses. 

A week earlier:

We had just come off a four day cycling trip to Harper’s Ferry, WV, when I asked three RCC Youth if they’d like to attempt the full 100-mile century ride at the Tour of Richmond.  Each youth, including Lavone Lewis, said they would.  We hadn’t ridden any further than 55-miles all season with any of our RCC members.  Granted, we’d put in some solid rides since April: The High School/Middle School Mountain Bike Race, the Cap2Cap 50-miler, three days of mountain biking at Douthat St. Park in June, three days of riding and 50 miles at Westmoreland St. Park in July, and a tough 55 mile day during our Harpers Ferry trip on Labor Day weekend.  Tack on the weekly rides since March—every week, twice a week minimum—and our youth were certainly fit.  But, with only 55 miles endured within a single bout this season, how young our three prospects were (13-14 years old), school just starting back, the Fall days getting shorter, and the endless struggles we have with their environmental influences—inherent influences of living in public housing—I knew that, even by RCC standards,  it was going to be a challenge. 

The three RCC youth had four weeks for final preparation.  Every day mattered.  Our rules were sharpened: Show up became show up on time. No negativity became ‘say something positive or don’t say anything’. Work hard became work harder.   Physically, we had three youth who could complete 100-miles.  Mentally and emotionally, I wasn’t sure who, if any, could.  After two weeks, one of our youth was late…twice.  At the beginning of the third week, now down to two prospects, one of our youth made a few negative comments during the ride.  It was now just Lavone vying for the opportunity to attempt 100 miles.  We had a small window of time to train—after school, with the days getting shorter— we focused on short hard workouts.  Intervals, hill repeats, and steady rides that focused on drafting were at the core of our ride-diet. 

Knowing Lavone:

I first met Lavone when he was in 6th grade.  He was shy (still is), easy going (still is),humble (still is), smart (always).  His only setback was that Lavone was a follower—he followed the behavior of his peers.  Nothing bad, just foolery, often at inappropriate times, which I guess is what makes it ‘foolery.’  He was a kid that seemed completely content with blending in.  He didn’t need recognition.  He didn’t want attention.  When his peers rode hard…he rode hard.  When his peers laughed…he laughed.  When his peers became negative…he became negative.  This past summer, we noticed a change.  Lavone started pushing the workouts, to the point of leading them.  Although not a facet we care about, he started to feel a sense of pride in becoming our fastest member.  He started forming an identity…his identity.  On our trip to Harpers Ferry, Lavone would be the first youth out of bed each morning.  He would join ‘the adults’ on the front porch rocking chairs—coaxing us to let him try coffee.  We did.  While sipping his coffee, pushing off the rocking chair, he’d asked me questions about my life, what I was like at age 14, about high school, what sports I played, my prom date, hip-hop music, college, and what I did after college.  His curiosities led to other curiosities.  He wanted to know what I thought about Fairfield Court, what I thought about RCC next year, my thoughts on the recent Trayvon Martin affair, and if I thought he could finish a century ride. 

Tour of Richmond:

I took Lavone out to dinner the night before the event.  I wanted to make sure he got plenty to eat.  I got him an alarm clock too.  Most every youth we’ve worked with in Fairfiled Court doesn’t have an alarm clock.  I set the alarm time for him; 5:45am.

When I pulled up to Lavone’s apartment at 6am to pick him up for the Tour of Richmond, I was surprised, the lights were already on.  We’ve had such a hard time [literally] pulling our youth out of their houses in the early morning, that we had last year’s Tour of Richmond youth spend the night inside Richmond Bicycle Studio.  I trusted Lavone would be up…and he was…at 5:20 in fact.  We stopped by 7-Eleven for, what he has a now acquired taste for, coffee.  We each had a Clif Bar to accompany our low quality java.

Before the start, I explained the mix of emotions he’d feel during the ride— bouts of anxiety, excitement, anger, frustration, sadness, happiness, euphoria, relief.  This is the emotional-cocktail of any endurance event—especially one’s first.  I explained that “you’re here today, because I truly believe that you can handle these emotions.  Use your self-control.”  He nodded, and off to the start line we went.

Between miles 55 and 68 were the toughest.  Just Lavone and I, we hadn’t seen anyone for at least five miles.  It was encroaching on 92-degrees.  It was hilly, the wind picked up, and fatigue was setting in.  The sag-wagons were zipping back and forth picking up abandoned riders.  This is when a person, especially a 14-year old, decides if they’re going to push on.  Lavone did.

After the 70-ish mile rest stop, we joined up with a group of about 10 riders.  I put Lavone in front of me—making sure he didn’t miss when the group would split—I wanted to keep him near the front.  He understood the concept of the group being a ‘train,’ and to stay on board.  Several times he would punch through, bridge up, and push to catch back on after a hill, or when someone opened a gap in front of him.  It was impressive. 

With 10-miles to go, we were a two-set again.  Our group decided to stop at the 90-mile rest station, and Lavone and I wanted to press on.  I could see that he was starting to have trouble focusing.  It was becoming more difficult for him to stay on my wheel.  People all around us were on the sides of the roads cramping, resting, quitting.  With 4-miles to go, we could see the lights from the stadium where the finish was.  “Everything you’ve got Lavone…this is it…this is your day,” I yelled back as we punched up the last climb of the day.  As we entered the stadium for one lap into the finish, he sat up, looked around, and as I suggested, he took it all in.  He’d been riding for nearly 7-hours.  He’d been out there for nearly 8-hours.  He’d been up for 11-hours.  He’d never ridden past 55-miles before, he’s a high school freshman, a kid from public housing, and he just crushed what ended up being nearly 107 miles in 92-degrees of rare October heat.  He was by far, the youngest person to even attempt the full century ride at the Tour of Richmond. 


Lavone Lewis, a freshman at Armstrong High School, 3-year RCC member, and the 5th RCC member to complete 100 miles, just after the finish line of the Tour of Richmond.

I took Lavone out to eat after the ride.  We talked about what was hard, what wasn’t, and what he felt after accomplishing such a feat.  He still had salt encrusted on his forehead.  When I dropped him off, I went inside to talk to his Mom.  I wanted to make sure she knew what her son had just accomplished.  As Lavone sat on the couch, she began to tear up as her pride swelled for what he had done.  I knew it was time for me to leave—I wanted her to have a moment with her son.  Lavone stood up and I gave him hug.  He looked to his right, quickly pulled away, and lunged toward a shelf in the living room.  “I got these from my cousin for you,” he said as he handed me a pair of white sunglasses.  

Craig Dodson

Founder & Director

Richmond Cycling Corps


RCC: Run By Youth


                         Blog presented by GroundForce IT 


In the past 2 ½ years, I’ve been asked to advise, consult, speak, share, provide insight, and present to quite a few folks, events, organizations, corporations, local government, college classes,  NPO-start-ups, for-profit start-ups, social media groups, and as of late, a cadre of shock trauma medical students trying to combat youth gang violence .  Each time I share what we at RCC do, why it works, how it works, how it came to be, there’s the inevitable question from the audience: “Where do you see RCC in 5 years?”  It’s always ‘5 years.’  My response is always, “I dunno.”  The look from the listeners is always a blend of confusion, doubt, more confusion, with a dash of panic—as if they wish they could fetch their $10 back from our donation bucket.  People like plans.  People like structure.  Thing is, when you’re working with the population of youth that we are, those two ingredients don’t apply.

Our outreach is our ‘product.’  If an NPO can demonstrate that their product [the work they do], well…works, then they are more apt to receive funding.  The foundation of our ‘product,’ is a platform that allows for change— lots of change, all the time.  Think more Moonbounce and less concrete-rebar type of foundation.  The Moonbounce is there to touch down upon, but allows for change in flight, trajectory, and direction.  As long as the change is to create improvement, one can’t lose.  Essentially, and like a Moonbounce, each jump has the ability to get RCC’s ‘product’ to reach greater heights. 

Why does this approach work?

A lot of groups who work with inner-city youth get frustrated with the lackluster performance, attendance and overall retention of the youth they seek to support.  It’s hard to help youth who don’t show up or act out.  Often, the adults who run the outreach programs stick to their plan(s) too tightly, not willing to adapt, adopt, or change.  What we’ve discovered at RCC:  We don’t run the programming….the youth do.  Youth who live in public housing often don’t receive an abundance of parental oversight.  They do what they want.  I’ve driven through Fairfield Court at 10pm on a school night, only to find the little sister of an RCC member roaming the neighborhood….at 5 years old.  I’ve seen episodes like this more times than I can count.  So, bottom line, the programming is ultimately driven by the enthusiasm and attendance of our youth.  There’s no fee to be in RCC.  Most parents are relatively passive to their child’s involvement.  The youth choose to participate on their terms, and therefore, like all youth, they tend to operate on change—lots of change, all the time. 


It’s sometimes hard to realize that the youth run RCC’s Programming. But, a kid like Trevon (pictured) has never missed a day in 3 years.  He’s ridden 50miles three times and 60miles last year at Tour of Richmond.  His motivations determine how RCC works, and when we need to change.

RCC’s role is to provide programming boundaries—rubber bumpers that guide our youth’s success—but don’t enforce a finite direction.  We create, we try, we adjust, and we change. 

In tying this all together: It’s hard to know exactly where RCC will be in 5 years.  “I dunno,” because to continue with the success our youth achieve (our ‘product’), we can’t possibly know.  We’ll know that RCC 2018 will include bicycles, youth character development, and our trademark tough love approach to outreach, but beyond that, we’ll see what works one day at a time, one youth at a time.   


Craig Dodson

Founder & Director of Development 



Wanted: Laminated ID Badges

Last week we got a call from Child Protective Services—they wanted Walker and me to sit in on what they called a “Team Decision Making” meeting regarding the current life-situation/ circumstances of an RCC youth. Honored to finally have a seat at the social-services table, we accepted the invitation.

We drove to the Community Services building off Hull Street on the Southside of Richmond; in attendance were the youth, representatives from Child Protective Services (CPS), Social Services, Foster Care, school administration, two family members, two newly appointed youth guardians, and Walker and me. In total, there were a dozen of us. A moderator facilitated the meeting with poster-boards listing “Strengths vs. Weaknesses,” “Outcome A, B, C,” and “Means of Support” plastered to the wall behind.

The meeting lasted an hour and half, and it wasn’t until 45 minutes into the meeting that a representative from Child Protective Services spoke up and asked for the ‘two gentlemen from RCC to share with the group their experiences with the youth.’

We outlined our time with the youth member in attendance and all that the youth has accomplished within RCC: the art the youth has produced, the designs people all across Richmond and beyond are willing to pay money for, and the front page newspaper story the youth made on Christmas Day. Cheers and elation erupted, as it was obvious that no one in the room knew the success and accolades of the youth sitting in front of them—they’d only known a youth who was under-performing in school, who was being disruptive, and who was bouncing from one residence to another.

It became evident that RCC was the ONLY facet of the youth’s life that was stable, successful, structured, and—to be blunt—working. But, It seemed just as soon as we earned a seat at the ‘Team Decision Making’ table, it was taken away.

Walker and I came under a bit of scrutiny from the group regarding our practices of youth outreach—or more directly, our lack of licensure of being ‘youth outreach professionals.’ All of the social-professionals in the group had laminated photo ID badges from various agencies that adorned their belts, lapels, or hung around their necks. When I explained to the group how the youth in our program tend to share their lives with us, more so than with any therapist, counselor, mental health professional, parent, friend, or guardian, the first response from the meeting’s moderator was “Are you licensed to be counseling youth?” My response was that “the mandatory counseling by ‘professionals’ obviously wasn’t working, and since the voluntary counseling the youth sought was with us—we must be doing something right.” For the remainder of the meeting, the moderator referred to RCC as simply “the bike club.”

We weren’t surprised with the group’s reaction to RCC—we were more surprised to be sitting there to begin with. Plucked from our Can’t Stop-Won’t Stop-Purpose Statement on the RCC website is a dynamic battle cry in which we attest that “We will not become tangled in red- tape, policy, politics, and talking heads.” We were sitting amongst layers of bureaucracy, which although well intentioned, was not working, and generally runs against the grain of how we operate.

At one point a representative from Foster Care suggested that ‘the bike club’ be taken away until the youth’s grades improve. I quickly chimed in that we couldn’t disagree more: “Why would you take away the one thing that is working towards the youth’s development as a source of punishment?” I tried to explain that we may want to look at an approach that is working [in this case, the rapport RCC has with youth members], and try to cross-pollinate that approach into other facets of the youth’s life that are not working (i.e. school, home).

Without a laminated badge around my neck, this idea was not received well. The representative from Foster Care had to leave the meeting early. Sitting immediately to my right, I leaned in to ask her for her contact info before she left—what I thought made sense in sustaining the ‘team’ component of the “Team Decision Making” process. The representative refused to give me her contact info until a representative from CPS shouted from across the table to “Give the man your phone number!” It was embarrassing, and a stark message that we are akin to second-class citizens within the landscape of social outreach—at least among ‘agency professionals.’

Time and time again, RCC has been stonewalled by social-agencies and schools from delivering our results-proven outreach into other facets of our youth’s lives. So much so, we finally met with one of our [incredible] lawyers last week to see about maneuvering around such bureaucratic hurdles.

Don’t get us wrong—we get it: most every social agency, organization, and establishment, especially in working with youth, is in CYA mode. This is understandable, due to the sensitivity around youth, legal systems, negative blow-back, and the easy sensationalism of a world where anything can go viral.

Fortunately for our youth, RCC works. Unfortunately for RCC, we work because we employ common sense, passion, and forward thinking—a recipe that often clashes with the cookbook of standards and procedures, regulation, and systematic channels.

At 7:30 the next morning—less than 24 hours after the meeting— Walker got a phone call from one of the youth’s newly appointed guardians. The youth had missed the school bus and needed a ride to school. Later in the day— and because of the previous few weeks’ housing issues—we had to provide a bicycle, transportation, and clothing to accommodate the youth at their new job. Just last week, RCC supplied a new cellphone and monthly cell plan for the youth—a requirement of their new job.

Time and time again, RCC is on the front lines  gaining trust, delivering action, and working tirelessly so that the RCC youth break the welfare cycle. Bicycles are in the forefront of this organization, but we only use such a means to reveal character development, to modify behavior, to establish accountability, and to elicit personal responsibility and responsibility to others.

Who knew the ‘bike club’ was so complex? In the meantime, we really need to get some laminated ID badges….

Craig Dodson

Founder & Director of Development 

2013: PUSH

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Three dudes, a band of volunteers from VCU, a videographer, a photographer, and 15 kids from Richmond’s public housing projects brought the [social outreach] house down.  Collectively, our youth pedaled over 15,000miles in 2012.  Three youth rode over 100miles in one day—and one of our 14year olds did it twice!  We had a 10year old girl that wouldn’t have been “this tall to ride” accomplish 25miles in a day.  We had a slew of kids riddled with anger control issues, ADD, ADHD, and every other behavioral caveat diagnosed from a school-specialist, accomplish 50, 60, and 75miles in one day.  Accomplishment became the modus operandi in and around RCC.  Improved behavior rode the coattails of this MO.  Our youth surpassed being inspired, and became the beacons of inspiration for others.  People began watching our videos repeatedly, looking at photos of the RCC youth frequently, and even marker-tattooed the battle cry of RCC, ‘Can’t Stop. Won’t Stop’ on their arm before their first full Ironman.  A cadre of youth who, let’s face it, live an environment most all of those reading this simply can’t relate to, have, in somehow, someway, become a swatch of motivation, of dedication, of hope and beating the odds within the fabric of human passion. 

RCC works.  It works because we have the absolute best people I could ever hope for leading the charge.  I say it all the time: We could have a fleet of $5,000 carbon fiber bikes, $200 helmets, ultra high-tech clothing and shoes, and without the right personalities to connect with our kids, we’d just a have a pile of really expensive cycling equipment.  Call it fate, destiny, fortune, or simply the stars aligning, but coincidental providence has magnetized, through cycling, a group of people who are dedicated, fearless, selfless, and genuinely concerned for our youth to break what is often pathology of welfare support.

For 2013…

We’ve already pushed the new-year-envelope with opening the RCC Youth LAB on December 3rd.  In just four weeks, the Richmond Times Dispatch picked up the paint our youth were putting down: ( Never ones to rest on our laurels, we are pushing for an additional program for 2013: A travel program for our youth.  We realized, on our trips to Philadelphia, how: 1. Some of our youth, even at ages over 15, have not been beyond Richmond City limits. 2. How much calmer our youth become once they are out of their neighborhood, from {what we at RCC think} is a reduction in their ever present ‘fight-or-flight’ manner.  If we can keep our youth from a constant ‘fight-or-flight’ disposition, we can achieve greater results towards their character-modification/development. We’re still working out the details, but the gist is to take trips lasting 4-6days with our youth—to cycle in the mountains, around lakes, the C&O Canal, and maybe even a mountain bike park or two.  Stay tuned as we shape up yet another groundbreaking facet of RCC.

And Beyond

We have built a reputation for running this non-profit in a unique manner, and as long as our youth continue to demonstrate the unparalleled successes that RCC has supported, we’re not changing.  We will continue to be creative, liquid, and motivated by the promise of changing the course of life for our youth.  We’ll continue to employ cycling as a way to elicit self-expression from our youth, which in turn, elicits self-improvement, which in turn, creates a more ambitious and productive style of life….over a lifetime.  We’ll continue to find the absolute best people to create connections with our youth.  Our Youth Programming Coordinator, Walker Owen, is akin to Atlas in supporting our youth.  How a 26year old from Appalachian North Carolina has become the go-to-guy for not only our inner-city youth who need help with college preparation, Driver’s Ed, school supplies, counseling, or general mentoring, but also  for the parents and grandparents of our youth, still amazes me.  It’s not uncommon for the guardians of an RCC youth to have Walker come into their house to help with various conflict resolutions around their child’s behavior.  To have this kind of trust from residents within public housing is virtually unheard of.  Walker is the real deal, and Richmond is incredibly lucky to have him.  We’ll continue to embrace Walker as he continues to embrace every facet of our youth’s lives. 

Keep believing in this tiny outreach organization that helps our youth accomplish such big things.  Keep up with how we pilot this organization’s successful flight within such a dynamic outreach environment.  Keep experiencing our youth’s accomplishments as they experience them.  Keep supporting the one-of-a-kind organization that is, and always will be, Richmond Cycling Corps.  For us at RCC…we’ll continue to Push!

Happy New Year!

Craig Dodson

Founder & Director 

Horse Before the [evolving] Cart

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Those who know me best, know that I often use the term ‘put the cart before the horse’ to describe many of off kilter thinking and subsequent decision making processes (often my own).  In running any business, especially non-profits, and only after the first (and in my opinion most important) ingredient, vision, money is the engine that drives opportunity, growth, sustenance, survival.  No matter how crisp and applicable a business leader’s vision is, without money, it quickly becomes blurred and irrelevant. In practical terms, money or more specifically, a money generator, is the horse. Those who know me best also know that I hate asking for money—which is a major problem when starting and running a non-profit organization.  

We always view RCC in ‘startup mode,’ but when we were first sprouting our startup-wings, we were presented a few paths of opportunity.  Fortunately, we were keen to recognize such pathways, and went to work on turning paths into financial avenues for RCC. 

Our biggest opportunity (to date) actually came from a muddled relationship with former developer, and now imprisoned, Justin French.  In our dealings with French, we were presented a beautifully renovated historic space in Scott’s Addition.  Totaling 3,500sq ft of vintage bricks and mortar, we occupied the space in July of 2010.  This is of course the low-friction version of our acquisition of 1717 Summit Avenue, as the coarser version would consume all of Tmblr’s bandwidth.  In May of 2011, through the help of two amazing RCC Supporters, Zach Roski and Scott Coleman, RCC was safe and secure in Scott’s Addition—and so we went to work on creating our organization’s financial avenue.  

We had always wanted a dedicated space for our youth, our youth operations, and our youth’s development.  1717 Summit was more than enough space to cultivate such a space, but in doing so, I knew we’d be putting the ‘cart before the horse.’  Yes, we anchor every thought, decision, and tactical move towards benefiting the youth of Richmond’s public housing neighborhoods. But, as mentioned earlier, without money, thoughts and decisions are severely stunted.  We needed our new space to provide financial horsepower—and not be just a visionary-cart.  September 16th was our one year anniversary of Richmond Cycling Corps launch of Richmond Bicycle Studio (RBS) at 1717 Summit.  As our ‘horse,’ RBS has done well to financially contribute to RCC.  With our collective cycling accomplishments, experiences, industry experience, and formal educations, we have, in just one year, proven to our patrons that we are the foremost experts on all things cycling in the Richmond area and beyond.  On the same token, we’ve also shared with our patrons how a $5 tube, a tuneup, an indoor cycling class, a bike fit,  or the purchase of an $8,000 carbon bicycle from RBS goes towards supporting a band of youth from Richmond’s east end housing projects; who have through their accomplishments, become the nation’s premier inner-city youth cycling program.  The creation and operation of Richmond Bicycle Studio has allowed us to not only sustain, but expand our vision (which is quite the vision), as well as our execution of such vision.  Bonus: Constant soliciting for donations has slowed to fundraising through trade—premier goods and services in exchange for much needed money to support our program.  In essence, I don’t feel like I’m always asking folks for money to support RCC.  

Two months ago RCC acquired its largest ‘cart’ to date.  Next door to Richmond Bicycle Studio—sharing a wall—RCC will launch a dedicated space for RCC’s youth operations in November at 1719 Summit.  A 2000sq ft expansion, we’ve named it the RCC Youth LAB (Learning Around Bicycles). We’ve had a 12foot opening between the adjoining walls designed to fully connect the two spaces—our financial- horse on one side, our visionary-cart on the other.  Our youth operations will now be fully streamlined under one roof.  From youth equipment repair, instruction, development, to laundry and programming, we are evolving RCC.  At the moment, we primarily use the RCC bread-trucks, personal laundry machines, RBS resources, and off-site storage to operate our youth programming. Come November, when customers enter Richmond Bicycle Studio, they can peer into the RCC Youth LAB and see firsthand where and what their money is going towards.  They’ll see rows of youth bikes, youth helmets, neatly organized cycling clothes, cycling shoes, laundry machines, tools, and a grand communal work station.  The RCC Youth will use the LAB to learn bicycle repair—a trade, a skill—and create bicycle inspired art for our ‘right brained’ youth.  Customers will see the operational and programming internals of RCC. 

Stay tuned for progress updates over the next month or two on the Youth LAB.  Once complete, there will not be a program in the world like Richmond Cycling Corps….be proud Richmond!

Craig Dodson

Founder & Director of Development

A New Partner, Fresh Youth Bikes & Zen

When RCC started in 2010, we had a hodgepodge fleet of 8 bikes.  That year, I cobbled together a few road bikes, had them painted blue and white, and voila, Richmond’s first inner-city youth cycling program was up and running.  {Side note: It wasn’t actually that easy, but litigious and logistical details don’t make for an interesting story}.  Week in and week out, I’d spend my time at local bike shops digging through used parts bins—smashing and mismatching components together to keep our youth bikes limping through the year. 

The original fleet of RCC Youth Bikes: Blue, white, and tired.

By the end of 2011, still on the jumbled cadre of blue and white bikes (with 2 more added to the fleet), and an amazing year of success culminating on our youth’s trip to Philadelphia, we had produced the nation’s premier inner-city youth cycling/outreach program.  We started 2012 on the same ragtag blue and white bikes.  We added some fresh tires, new cables, pedals, new bar tape/grips, and put our weary bikes back under the youth of Fairfield Court.  In February, the Richmond Police Athletic League applied a grant toward RCC, which enabled us to purchase 10 new hybrid bikes.  Used bike donations also started to pour in, and by March, we had a full fleet of 10 mountain bikes mixed in with our fleet of 20ish road and hybrid bikes. 

Over time, the donated mountain bikes became chronically ill.  Because our youth roster had increased (up to 25+ in March), we were forced to use our newly purchased hybrids not only as road bikes, but as mountain bikes, BMX bikes, and eventually, [launch] bikes at the new Belle Isle Skills Course.  We encourage our youth to try whatever they set out to tackle— cobbled hills, jumps, logs, rocks, stream crossings, etc.  Sometimes they’re successful.  Sometimes they come up short.  The bikes always take a beating.

Opening the Richmond Bicycle Studio last Fall was a monumental step toward developing our youth cycling program; in addition to raising funds for RCC through sales, service, bike-fits, and indoor cycling classes, we could now save funds for RCC—as we had access to wholesale pricing for our youth equipment needs.  Still, we could not afford an entire fleet of new youth bikes—especially since we had diversified into several different styles of riding.  The slew of graciously donated bikes really helped us, but we soon found out, that component compatibility between bikes makes a world of difference in terms of repair output and efficiency.  7speed vs. 8speed vs. 9speed vs. 10speed drivetrains; cantilever brakes vs. V-brakes vs. mechanical disc brakes vs. hydraulic disc brakes; threaded vs. thread-less steer tubes; 1” vs. 1 ¼” vs. 1 1/8” headsets; square–taper vs. Octa-link vs. outboard bearing bottom brackets; 26.8 vs. 27.2 vs. 31.6 seat-post, and on and on and on.  When you’re dealing with a heavily ridden and heavily abused fleet of bikes, turnkey operations via component integration is paramount. 

After our first outing with the youth at the Belle Isle Skills Course, we knew that our youth had pushed passed the boundaries of their bikes.  One obstacle after another, 15 youth from Fairfield Court conquered their fears and overcame challenges that the majority of seasoned mountain bike racers with $3K+ bikes would not even try [Um, yeah…we’re proud].  There was a subtle sense of guilt among the staff and volunteers of RCC: Our youth deserved better equipment—they earned it, and we needed to provide it.  We’re not very Zen-like at RCC, but two weeks after that first outing at the Skills Course, and subsequent revelation for needing new and better equipment, the Carmax Foundation awarded Richmond Cycling Corps a $25,000 grant for new youth bikes to be purchased through RCC’s Richmond Bicycle Studio.  Zen happened. 

Age 14, Nigel demonstrates real hang-time on a 10year old donated bike

We will be purchasing a total of 48 new bikes through our Richmond Bicycle Studio for our youth between now (July) and February 2013.  For the first time, our youth will have the proper bikes for each discipline of riding they participate in.  They’ll have a fleet of new Kona dirt jumping bikes for the local BMX track and Skills Course at Belle Isle.  New Kona road bikes will hum smoothly as the RCC youth accomplish, 25, 50, 70, and 100mile journeys at Richmond’s Cap2Cap Ride, Pedal for Pal, Anthem Moonlight Ride, and Philadelphia’s Livestrong Challenge throughout the year.  New Kona mountain bikes will help them whiz around the James River mountain bike trails, and as they compete in the Forrest Hill High School Mountain Bike Race.  New Kona hybrid bikes will help the learning curve for new riders who wish to join RCC, and for experienced youth to zip around downtown Richmond for the New Belgium Urban Assault Ride.  Did we mention the RCC youth will be on premier Kona Bikes!!!

We simply cannot thank the Carmax Foundation enough.  Their incredibly generous support accelerates the quality of RCC’s programming by at least five years.  With such a diversified fleet of bikes, and the amount of success our youth continue to produce, we dare say, that there is not a cycling-based outreach program in the world like RCC.  To Bon Secours, GroudForce IT, our new partner, The Carmax Foundation, and all of you who support either Richmond Cycling Corps, Richmond Bicycle Studio, or both, THANK YOU.  Together, with the RCC staff, RCC volunteers, and RCC youth, we have built a one-of-a-kind program; one that provides opportunities, experiences, and memories that will not only last a lifetime for our youth, but builds character development towards a lifetime of success for our youth. 

Craig Dodson

Founder & Director of Development

Quality Over Quantity


This blog post presented by  

It’s only May, and we’ve already done a slew of events with our youth.  In fact, we’ve done more events so far this year, than all of 2010; now that’s growth! When we announce or go to an event, the very first question folks ask is “How many kids are here?”  It’s a natural question, and I’d be lying if I said that the number of youth we have participate in events, or number of youth on the entire RCC roster is not important— it’s very important.  

What’s more important though, at least for RCC, is the quality of our program.  There are a ton of organizations that “do” things with youth: Our focus is for our youth to not just do, but to accomplish.  We’re not looking to just expose them to cycling.  We want to expose them to a sense of accomplishment, that, through cycling, can and will seep into every other facet of their lives (i.e. academics, employment, personal ambitions).  Because we set the bar so high—for our youth, for ourselves, and RCC as a whole—quality often comes at the expense of quantity.  

We realized early on, that if we don’t develop prestige around RCC, then the value of being a youth member of RCC is nil.  We rank our youth after every session. The rankings are posted on a piece of paper that gets taped to the side of the RCC bread-truck.  Rankings are based on attendance, attitude, and school behavior.  We don’t care how fast you ride your bike.  If you show up on time, meet your ride-goal for the day, and don’t act up while with us, or in school, then your rank maintains or improves.  The top ranked 8-12youth leading into an event, get to go.  We also have a system of awarding RCC decals to the youth’s helmets for positive character development.  If they ask for a sticker right after, say, helping someone who fell down, they get denied.  Again, that only reinforces the “do” in youth (as in do something for a reward), and we want them to learn what positive character development is— that’s accomplishment.  

If youth are consistently late, or consistently acting up, they are put on the Probation list (and it really is in bold font at the bottom of the rankings sheet).  Two weeks on the probation list, and youth are no longer on the RCC Roster.  If a youth desires to continue with the program, they are put to the back of our Reserve List, which is our ‘on deck’ list for new youth waiting to enter the program.  Essentially, youth who have been dismissed from the roster must rejoin the program.  

Last Friday, and after five separate meetings between Walker, Wilson, and I, we decided to ask a youth to exit the RCC Roster.  It was a hard discussion to have with the member, especially since it was one of our youth from last year. The 8th-grader came on and off the Probation list for quite sometime—excellent attendance—but disruptive behavior. We tried every angle we could over the past several weeks, but ultimately, we had to formulate a decision based on the level of quality outreach we could provide to 14 other youth on the roster— as we removed the disruptive behavior coming primarily from one.

Last Friday was a tough day for RCC, as we had to dismiss one of our youth from the roster


Time and time again, we remind ourselves that if we close out 2012 with only five youth, or four youth, or even just one, then we’ll know that those few youth have accomplished…truly accomplished.  We don’t want youth in public housing to just ‘do’ cycling— that’s not enough for us.  We are designing a program that has youth in public housing beat the odds, overcome the stereotypes, and accomplish what they set out to accomplish…over their lifetime.  In order for us to design such a program, it starts with quality, and it ends with quality— quantity is just a bonus.

Craig Dodson

Founder & Director of Development

In Flux: How We Roll

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Last Tuesday, I gave a presentation on Richmond Cycling Corps to about 30 folks attending the Creative Change Center's (C3) Breakfast Club.  C3 is a great organization, that—according to its mission statement— promotes “Innovation. Diversity. Energy. Creativity. Openmindness. Self-Motivation. Inspiration. Connection. Celebration.”

Hey, that sounds like RCC!

For the first time, aside from a smattering of blog posts that I’ve written, I cracked open my mind and exposed the hardware as to how I think, and how my thinking drives RCC.

The presentation took attendees through a photo-journey of  my adolescence, college, post college, bread trucks, Lil Wayne, welding, our youth, an outhouse, Justin French, and a 70’s rock band from Canada.  The title was “RCC: Never Finished.”

The gist was to demonstrate how I’ve never sought to have RCC become a ‘finished product,’ and how we are extremely creative and bold in our execution of producing the best social-outreach product we can.  ”Flux” was a term used throughout the presentation, as it articulates pretty well, how [I think] all businesses should be run: in a state of flux, always charging to evolve.  

It’s my opinion that when a company (and, yes, I view RCC as a company, not a conventional non-profit) sticks to a point-A-to-point-B plan, they fail to produce the best product they can— because they’re only charting a course for the company to become a finished product- ‘This is what we do, and all that we do.’

 We saw this with early on with social media platforms (MySpace), search engines (Yahoo), and PC companies (Gateway) who locked into a product or service-unilateral-mission, and lost market share to their competitors who constantly pushed the boundaries of their product/service development— often reaching a point of operating without boundaries at all (Google).  

At various points during the presentation, I could tell that some folks were becoming a bit, well, squeamish, of our tactics (or lack thereof) of producing what has becomes the nation’s most successful inner-city youth cycling program. A program, I must add, that has occurred in only two years, with three guys, three volunteers, five board members, and $100,000.  

In conventional non-profit organizations, especially those that work with youth, there is surely an operational-template premised on “caution first, caution second, action third.”  

We flip that template (yikes!), and do what it takes to produce results (i.e., change young lives). Oh, and those results are not metrics-driven (another yikes!).  We view each youth in our program as unique in their background, their development, and their needs.  And so we are forced to constantly adapt our thinking, qualification, and methods to improve their lives, and subsequently serve the purpose of RCC.  

At the conclusion of the presentation, one of the attendees came up and protested that “my fearlessness makes her a little nervous.”  ”Thank you,” I said in return.  It’s been my experience that the companies who have pushed the envelope in vision, execution, and product development often become the categorical front runners.

We take ownership (extreme pride, actually) towards our fearless approach to running RCC.  We’ve taken the boundaries off of our mission statement— which we felt only wedded us to What We Do, instead of How We Do It and Why We Do It. In fact, this led us to dismiss our mission statement all together, and rely instead on our new Purpose statement— which is now front and center on our new website:   

Craig Dodson

Founder & Director of Development

Richmond Bicycle Studio: Explained

by Craig Dodson, Founder and Director

It’s been four months since the Grand Launch of RCC’s Richmond Bicycle Studio. Four months….and a lot of you are still wondering: so what’s the deal with that place? 

Is it a bike shop? A indoor cycling studio? A hangout for our youth? A big cavernous space where we sometimes have awesome parties? All good questions.

For you, we offer Richmond Bicycle Studio: Explained.  

How (As in “how did the Richmond Bicycle Studio come into existence?”) 

Back in 2010, the lease of a former shipping and receiving warehouse was donated to Richmond Cycling Corps for two years as part of an underwriting agreement. This gift came via the now-infamous Justin French. We had no idea what we were going to do with the building, but we weren’t about to turn away 3,300 fully renovated square feet.

In November of that year, I started running indoor cycling classes and custom bike fits out of the space to raise funds for RCC.  I taught 4 evening classes a week.  I had been doing bike fits since 2005— using original data and protocol from bicycle-related research projects and lit reviews.  For the first time since 2007, I was using my [expensive and often irrelevant] formal education to raise money for my passion: RCC.  

Within five months,  we’d raised $17,000 for RCC within the space’s shabby-chic walls (okay, more shabby than chic).  

At this point, the Board of Directors and I realized that we may have found the controlled funding-generator that we’d been looking for.  For us, this was the key: it was controlled. See, most non-profits have uncontrolled funding—they live (and die) by the grant. That’s an excellent model as long as times are good, but when grants dry up, things get tough.  I’ve always felt that such ebb-and-flow income should not be the financial lifeline of any organization.  

Why (as in, “Why do this?”)

Once we realized that cycling-related services within the space could be a viable financial opportunity for RCC, we expanded our vision. We began a full design and build-out of 1717 Summit Avenue on Memorial Day weekend of 2011.  

The impetus to develop the studio was built around four ideas:

1. Grant writing was not our skill-set, but cycling was.

2. We had more financial gains (and less frustration) through selling cycling-related services than hunting down foundation money.

3. Helping folks meet their cycling needs allowed us to be up close and personal with those supporting RCC—which may lead to a potential donor down the road (a nice aside: this hypothesis has been validated).

4. We had a vision of a utilizing the space directly for our youth outreach (more on that later).

What (as in “What are we and what do we do?”)

Richmond Bicycle Studio is a venture run by a non-profit.  The Salvation Army has thrift stores.  The Girl Scouts sell cookies.  Richmond Cycling Corps owns and operates Richmond Bicycle Studio—simply put, we sell cycling-related goods and services to raise funds, gain autonomy, and conduct cycling-based outreach.

Like our work with youth, we just happen to be really good at helping people with their cycling endeavors.  I’ve been working in bike shops since age 15; competing on bikes since age 14;  an elite cyclist since 1998. Thanks to an interdisciplinary program and great adviser, I essentially went to grad school to study the science of cycling.  RCC’s Operations Coordinator, Walker Owen, is an engineer by trade and currently an elite cyclist; he’s mechanically-minded, detail oriented, and incredibly astute when it comes to bicycle design, materials, and production.  

With cycling being the bedrock of the folks behind RCC, how could we not leverage our backgrounds towards helping to financially support our organization?  

Even if a for-profit venture, we designed Richmond Bicycle Studio to fill [what we felt was] a void in the community.  We wanted to create a one-of-a-kind space—one that didn’t look, feel, or operate like a conventional bike shop. Our purpose and strategy is to provide undivided attention, education, and shared passion; while we are trying to create revenue for the organization, we’re not doing that at the expense of relationships with the community.  Low overhead allows us to keep our exposure at a minimum, allowing us to make careful and calculated decisions for our patrons.  

Where (as in “where do we go from here?”)

Perhaps most important in our vision of Richmond Bicycle Studio was our commitment to developing a space for our youth to expand their world of cycling: from learning bicycle mechanics to creating bicycle-inspired art, we want our youth to be exposed to every facet of cycling possible.  We knew we had to get the studio off the ground first—and without letting the cat out of the bag—I can say that a dedicated, one of a kind space, just for our youth, is in the works. 

Hopefully this sheds a bit more light on Richmond Bicycle Studio— and subsequently, RCC.  

So, if you have a cycling need, be it a bike fit, indoor cycling classes, repair, new bike, accessories, new parts, or consulting, and you want your dollars to support an organization that changes youth lives in Richmond’s public housing projects through cycling, then support RCC’s Richmond Bicycle Studio.

Craig Dodson

22 Successes in 2011:

This blog post is sponsored by   

Well, you found us.  Not a usual method of delivering a newsletter huh?

If you’ve come to our blog before, welcome back.  If you’re new, get comfortable, and take a look at the older posts. In them, you’ll see that we’ve tried to present a transparent look into our organization, our practices, our philosophies, and our goals.

So—why are we doing our newsletter this way?  Well, for starters— if you haven’t figured out yet—we’re not big fans of conventional means towards a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g we do..newsletters included.  Secondly, we truly believe in an honest and non-manufactured approach towards every facet of the ‘social-profit-design’ that is RCC.  Last but not least, we don’t want to water-down what folks have come to love about this pint-size organization that delivers gallons: our grit, our sincerity, our creativity, and our scrappiness.

Well, it’s that time of year, and folks feel like giving.  So let us give you 22 successes for RCC in 2011.  Why 22?  Because that’s what it added up to.

1. 8 youth from our 15 member youth group are taken to the Philadelphia for the LiveStrong Challenge.

2. RCC youth member Chris Mason becomes Richmond’s first inner-city youth to ride 100 miles in one day.

3. Two youth rode 50miles in Philadelphia, two youth rode 35miles, and 3 youth rode 25miles in addition to Chris’s 100mile journey.

4. Youth receive proclamations from Richmond’s Mayor Dwight Jones for achievements in Philadelphia and throughout year.

5. Collectively, RCC youth rode close to 15,000miles from March to September.

6. RCC was featured in four different magazines, three websites, and a video that’s garnered over 5,000 views.

7 RCC diversified, and launched Richmond Bicycle Studio— a four month project that has redefined all things cycling in Richmond: Sales, service, fits, and indoor cycling— with all funds raised going towards RCC .

8. Three VCU students became the backbone to RCC’s volunteer efforts, and captured the hearts of our youth.

9. Walker Owen…’nough said. 

10. RCC finishes 7th in Richmond Unite Grant Award.

11. Organizations, schools, and politicians across the Richmond region solicit RCC for expertise in inner-city youth outreach.

12. Over 200 people attend Grand Launch of Richmond Bicycle Studio

13. RCC Board Chair, Peter Fraser’s design wins Best of Show at this year’s InLight art expo—with RCC youth integrated into his exhibit.

14. Three youth complete 50miles at this year’s Capital to Capital Trail Foundation ride: 5 youth complete 25mile ride.

15. RCC becomes finalist in Henrico County Business of The Year Award.

16. RCC decides to start second public housing youth outreach location for 2012: Second RCC Bread Truck is purchased.

17. RCC partners with Police Athletic League to produce new fleet of youth bicycles.

18. RCC is asked to become an integral part of community health initiative for Richmond’s 7th District: We accept.

19. RCC youth, and high school senior, Chris Mason delivers personal statement on his epic 100mile Philadelphia ride to his high school college guide. Her verdict: “It was the best personal statement I’ve ever read.”

20. RCC’s Founder and Director, Craig Dodson, was named one of Richmond’s Top 40 Under 40 by Style Magazine

21. RCC Board Member, Carolyn Goble, is awarded Community Cycling Advocate of the year by Carytown Bicycle Company

22. We did everything above in less than 18months from starting RCC, with 2 staff, 5 Board Members, 3 volunteers, and $100,000 annual operating budget; and why our ‘battle cry’ has become: Can’t Stop. Won’t Stop.

 2012 is going to be chock full of even more monumental accomplishments for RCC, and we’re already getting excited to give you those updates throughout the year. In fact, think of RCC as a season in and of itself….one that never stops giving.

From ALL of us at Richmond Cycling Corps…Happy Holidays!!!

No Training Wheels

by Craig Dodson, Founder and Director

There are no training wheels in Fairfield Court.

Some kids in the neighborhood have bikes—mostly banged up, brake-less youth bikes that are ditched in front yards and left out in rain.  One thing we’ve noticed: not one bike has a set of training wheels.  Kids in Fairfield Court, as young as four years old, can literally jump onto an adult bike ride as if they’d been doing it since they were two.  

It’s interesting how a lack of resources (in this case, training wheels) has given them no other alternative than, well, action.  If you want to ride, throw caution to the wind, jump on the bike, and let whatever happens, happen.

Gotcha! Here’s 5 year old Mimi. She’s the baby sister of two of our youth members, and if you turn your back for a second, this little daredevil is on your bike, or in this case, my 59cm bike. We hope to get Mimi into RCC   soon.


Folks often ask us “How has RCC accomplished so much in such a short period of time? And with only a few hands on deck? And on such a tight budget?”  Our response:  like the kids in Fairfield Court, we scrapped the training wheels from Day One.

At the risk of being a bit haphazard and borderline reckless, we just try things.  We don’t sit around and think of detailed action-sequences, master-plans, or fabricated controls on how to successfully produce an inner-city youth cycling program.  It’s 100%, grade-A, organic, Darwinian trial-and-error.  

We observe, think, and make logical, gut-driven judgment calls. Our protocol shape-shifts as it needs to.  We’re guided by the bold process of idea generation and regeneration, not standards and procedures.  

This approach to youth outreach has allowed us to be as dynamic as the environment our youth are in.  To be frank, day-to-day stability in public housing projects is non-existent.  If you take a cautious approach to youth outreach in Fairfield Court—especially if you’re using something out-of-the-norm like cycling— it will not work.  Standards and procedures, flow charts, and master plans narrow the vision and stifle creativity—sort of like training wheels: your ability to maneuver is too restricted, too limited.  

Working with our youth constantly reminds us how we ought to function.  Our youth don’t (yet) know what red-tape is.  The don’t fathom a litigious society.  They don’t constantly obsess about the “what if’s” in life.  They operate on cause and effect; action and reaction.  They’re fearless — or maybe they’re just incredibly confident in their abilities to figure things out.  Maybe that’s what fearless really means.  Regardless, our youth inspire us how to think, how to plan, how to not plan, and how to do.  

Somewhere along the way to adulthood, it seems we forget how to just try, and —with some instinctive navigation and a little luck—do . All too often, we get paralyzed with risk-versus-reward calculus, fear of the unknown, and fear-to-fail thinking.

If we had put such cautious strategies front and center with RCC, we’d never have even launched this program. If mapped out, financially assessed, and logistically picked and prodded, the odds of success in introducing and producing an inner-city youth cycling program in Richmond would have been nil. The youth in Fairfield Court have it right: sometimes training wheels just aren’t necessary.

Don’t Mention the Kids

by Craig Dodson, founder and director

Walker and I just sat there staring at each other in total disbelief.  

An employee at Ibis — the bicycle company we were proud to carry at Richmond Bicycle Studio — had told us over the phone that we could no longer carry their bikes. What’s worse: it was because of the outreach work that Richmond Bicycle Studio supports. It was like we’d been hit by a truck.  

I should probably back up a bit.

In case you didn’t know, we picked up Ibis just before our Grand Launch on September 16th, and we were ecstatic.  


For starters, sheer awe. Ibis was a brand that Walker and I fell in love with when we first began to dream about cycling. I liked Ibis bikes so much that I named my first dog after the company in 1996.  Walker leafed through the company’s catalogs late at night when he was in high school— for hours just reading and staring, dreaming and thinking of having an Ibis.

Second, it was a perfect fit for us, a product that we wholeheartedly believed in, a company that still had a soul. I mean, this was a bike company that claims on its website that “[p]hilosophically, we at Ibis like contributing to micro charities.” When was the last time that you heard a successful bike company do that?

Walker and I were ecstatic: Ibis was coming to Richmond Bicycle Studio, and we were ready to build a platform around the company’s product.  

We ordered the first bike, a Silk SL road bike, for a customer in September.  When we got it in, we knew—absolutely knew—that we had our paramount brand for our boutique-style service.  We built up the bike, did a custom bike fit, and produced one very satisfied purchaser.  Ibis sent a few T-shirts and a banner too— a token to welcome us.  

Three weeks ago, I decided to purchase an Ibis— a Silk SL frame and fork.  I haven’t had a new frame in four years, and I’m still using my race component group from 2006.  I’ve never in my life been able to purchase a bike that I really wanted— I was always too broke, and through racing, I [thankfully] had sponsorship. I don’t make much money directing RCC, but I threw caution to the wind, and decided to purchase a bike that I really wanted to ride. Yes, it was in part a way to carry out my adolescent dream of owning an Ibis, but it’s also good sense for me to be aboard the product(s) that we recommend to folks who trust us.

So, on a Friday evening at 4:45pm (West Coast time), I called Ibis, and ordered my new frame.  I was so happy on the phone; I started sharing the recent developments of our program with the Ibis employee.  He seemed interested, so I sent over a bunch of links to recent press on RCC— he said they may post the articles on their Facebook page.  I just kept thanking the employee— he seemed really interested into what we were doing at Richmond Bicycle Studio, and how it funded our non-profit. 

Two weeks later, and the frame never showed up.  I called Ibis just to see if they had a tracking number.  

No tracking number.  They never shipped it.  

Ibis had decided —without telling us— that we were no longer a dealer.  

After a half hour on the phone, with the discussion making no sense, I finally asked the employee what he suggested we do different at Richmond Bicycle Studio— something that would have kept the relationship with Ibis.  

”Separate the shop from the non-profit” he said.

”But the shop is separate from the non-profit,” I sputtered. “The only connection is that the shop produces funding for the non-profit.” He didn’t get it.  I tried a different approach: “It’s like how the Girls Scouts sell cookies to fund their purpose.”  

That seemed to make matters worse.  Finally, I said “What difference does it make what we do with the money we earn?  That’s our choice, and it doesn’t affect our operations or quality of service.  The Girls Scouts still produce the best cookies ever made, and the money goes to…well…the Girl Scouts”

 He still didn’t get it.  His constant retort to everything I said: “We just want to work with conventional bike shops.”  

Ibis is not a “conventional” company. This is what makes their abrupt about-face so puzzling.

We are so proud of this organization and the creative way we’ve diversified our operations to support its existence. We’re not going to hide who we are or how we work. Frankly, we broadcast our endeavors every chance we get.  Never in a million years would I think that sending over information about providing inner-city youth cycling opportunities would backfire…from a cycling company…that “philosophically likes contributing to micro charities.”    

We’re not asking Ibis for a donation.  We’re not asking for discounts.  We’re not even asking them for swag.  We just want to sell their bikes—bikes we believe in, produce happy customers, and help some inner-city kids along the way.  

Lesson learned in dealing with bicycle companies: They just want to sell bikes; don’t mention the kids.

Connecting the dots

by Peter Henry, Board Member

So, a pretty sobering article about demographic shifts came out in the New York Times this week. You can read it here, but the short of it is that middle class neighborhoods have disappeared over the last 40 years as greater residential segregation has set in. This finding was part of the US2010 project (which itself is a joint effort between Brown University and the Russell Sage Foundation). 

The NYT article used Philadelphia and its suburbs as a case study (and have a chilling graphic of demographic shifts since 1970 here), but the larger point is that, in the US in 2010,  ”44 percent of families lived in neighborhoods the study defined as middle-income, down from 65 percent of families in 1970. At the same time, a third of American families lived in areas of either affluence or poverty, up from just 15 percent of families in 1970.”

Okay, okay, you say—I get it:  the middle class disappears, so there are more affluent people and more poor people; they live far apart from one another—it’s sad, but it’s not surprising.

So what does this have to do with RCC?

Well, for one thing, a metro area with concentrated poverty at its core and affluence on its periphery should sound pretty familiar if you live in Richmond.

In fact, if you play around on this interactive feature of US2010’s map project, you can track household income since 1940 in the Richmond metro area. When you do that, you’ll see a trend: affluence moving out of the city of Richmond, and in particular after 1970. 

So again: what does this have to do with RCC? 

All of our youth come from the urban core. They attend schools that, compared to their suburban counterparts, have higher levels of inexperienced teachers and students on free/reduced lunch and far fewer Advanced Placement courses and advanced math classes (you can track that data here by plugging in RPS schools and comparing them to schools in Hanover, Chesterfield, and Henrico). What’s more, as middle class residential areas disappear, our youth lose the opportunity to mix with members of other economic classes.

While it’s true that RCC is never going to reverse 40 years of residential segregation, I have to believe that what we can do is expose our youth to a different world, one bike ride at a time.

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