According to Detroit cyclist Yvonne Rucker, only two African Americans have ever achieved worldwide recognition in the sport and she wants to change those numbers. She is very passionate about exposing Detroit youths to the world of cycling. Her passion spurred her to create BikeVon, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, solely dedicated to youth and cycling in 2013.
“My goal is to eventually get cycling offered as an extracurricular activity in the Detroit Public Schools, said Rucker, who serves as executive director of BikeVon. “When I see a child get on a bike and strap in, I see them move into a whole new world.”
BikeVon not only provides free cycling training for those between the age of 9 and 13, but Yvonne personally transports her 15 students to and from the International Velodrome at Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills every week.
“Transportation has been a big problem and sponsorship is a problem, said Rucker candidly. “We meet four days a week in the summertime because the kids have to stay out there on the track. They go through three days of training and one day of races among other cyclists in the area.”
The students learn how to properly ride a bike, various riding positions and techniques to use on the track, and cycling etiquette among other topics.
Rucker, who is a lifelong Detroiter, hopes that the youth in her program get far more from cycling than just regular exercise. She hopes BikeVon inspires a lifestyle change for them.
“I really believe in servicing the whole child in my program. I talk to them about good nutrition, hydration, and their daily habits,” said Rucker, who organizes field trips out of her own pocket every month around Michigan for the children. “Unfortunately, some of my kids go home and have nothing to eat. If I had my druthers, I would have structured activities for these kids every day of the week!”
The kids learn about the dangers of junk food, the value of drinking more water and how to incorporate protein into their diets. Rucker has seen first-hand how these lessons have positively impacted the kids’ families.
In 2016, she hopes to grow BikeVon to support more youth and secure steady donations for year-round activities. The group recently took a field trip to the League of Michigan Bicyclists headquarters in Lansing, Mich. Next, they’re headed back to Lansing to visit the state Capitol.
“I really try to push my kids to be critical thinkers and learn about a variety of things beyond cycling,” she said.
Rucker connects with most program participants or their parents through her community involvement around Detroit. She estimates that about 28 youths have gone through her program so far.
When asked why more African American youths aren’t cycling, she cited the high price tag of a bike, helmet, proper riding gear and other items.
“It’s definitely an expensive sport,” Rucker began. “A track bike can easily cost $600, depending on how much you want to invest. And cycling clothes can cost $200 and shoes start at about $69. So when you look at the economics, it’s just not cheap.”
During visits to the Velodrome, she said it’s clear that many children riding have grown up around cycling, where most of the kids in her program have had little to no experience as a serious biker.
“When I started this program, word got to Dale Hughes, who was chief designer of the Velodrome in Rochester Hills. He generously offered to donate money to my kids for participating in track cycling, she explained. “He wanted me to find a donor to match his contribution, but I was unable to rally much support. So, I became that donor.”
Rucker admits that she doesn’t think she’ll hit her fundraising goal for 2015. She estimates that it costs about $237 to fund all of the program costs, from meals to admissions, for one youth. But despite the shortfall, Rucker says she is still hopeful when she thinks of the kids in next year’s program.
“Every headache is well worth it with every hug I get from Emily,” she said of one of the current BikeVon students. “And when I ask my kids about their dreams, two young men said they want to become professional cyclists. This pushes me to keep trying!”
Rucker’s ultimate goal for the kids is to bring Olympic Cyclist Nelson Vails to Detroit. Vails won the silver medal in track cycling in 1984 and was inducted into the U.S. Bicycle Hall of Fame in 2009.
She thinks that meeting him would be transformative for the youths in her program. This project is currently in the works.
“For cyclists, it is always about the ride! Cycling allowed me to get better and better. It allows you to set a goal and work toward it,” said Rucker, who aims to get 20 new students next year.