By Tom Travis
The Berston Bicycle Club is gearing up for another summer of activity around Flint. The next session begins July 12 and runs through Sept. 10. The nine-week course includes classroom clinic sessions on biking safety and maintenance as well as daily bike trips in all directions on the compass.
At the end of it — aiming for a goal of riding 270 miles — participants get a new bike, helmet, and lots of extras. And, the club’s founder Angela Stamps hopes, healthier bodies as well.
Stamps, 51, founded the Berston Bicycle Club project in 2012. It engages adolescents ages 10 to 18 in physical activity by way of bicycle riding three times per week. A loaner-used bicycle fleet and helmets are provided for participants without bikes. Participants meet at Berston Field House, choose a bike, discuss bicycle safety lessons and even learn the appropriate foods to eat for biking.
“I didn’t have a car so I used my bike to get groceries” — Angela Stamps
Stamps, 51, a Detroit native raised in Flint, lived in Los Angeles for 17 years working as a licensed cosmetologist. While there, she became a bike commuter and founded Kentakee Athletic & Social Clubs.
“I chose the name Kentakee because I wanted to serve the African-American community — specifically adolescents and teach them about our history prior to the slave trade,” Stamps explained.
“My studies of history in America and Africa helped to build my confidence and I wanted to share that knowledge with posterity to boost their self-esteem and help them realize our legacy extends beyond the American slave trade.”
She returned to Flint in 2010 to start teenage athletic and educational programs for underserved youth. Since 2012, Stamps has created and provides bike programming in the Flint and surrounding areas. She commuted exclusively by bike for 10 years, according to her biography on the Club’s website.
Stamps said when she started riding a bike, she rode four miles, one way, to work each day. “I didn’t have a car so I used my bike to get groceries, for work, for everything. I had gym memberships but it seemed like a drudgery to me, I wasn’t motivated to go to the gym. But because I had to use my bike, it became a consistent exercise for me.”
Grant mentor challenged Stamps with a question
Stamps recalled a conversation she had with her grant mentor at The Ruth Mott Foundation who asked, “If you had one focus, what is the one issue you would want to address in town?” Stamps replied, “I saw really small people [holding her hand up off the ground about four feet, about the size of a grade school student] struggling with excess weight, childhood obesity.
The mentor said, “Well, why don’t you create a bike program?” ”
“Are you serious?” Stamps said.
Largely funded through grants from the Ruth Mott Foundation in the beginning years, recently the program has been funded through The Community Foundation of Greater Flint. Stamps added there have been grants from several organizations that have funded the club over the years. She said it takes about $50,000 a year to run the program.
“A lot of kids in this community don’t even have bikes,” Stamps said. The Bicycle Club will buy bikes from pawn shops, yard sales — and those bikes that are salvageable’we put them in our fleet of bikes for the students to use. Those bikes that aren’t salvageable we take apart and use the parts that are stored in the repair shop.”
An incentive to the program is that each participant gets “a new bicycle package.”
The students also learn a variety of disciplines.
Other disciplines students learn, Stamps said , include time management, critical thinking (e.g. solving dilemmas in real time, planning ahead for the trip), how to function in a team environment, stamina and endurance (e.g. riding long distances, pushing through when the ride is difficult), understanding how to choose the right bike for your height and weight and making sure you are visible to motorists (e.g. making eye contact with motorists at traffic lights, etc.). And learning cardinal points (e.g. N/S/E/W), how to read a hard copy map and using proper hand signals on the road,” Stamps explained in an email.
Earl Hall, 19, a graduate of Beecher High School and recently accepted to Columbia University in New York City, credits his four years in the Berston Bicycle Club with his success and acceptance to university.
Hall explained, ” This organization led to a lot of different pathways in my life that are not really related to the bicycle club — but it was through the connections that I made through the club.
“I was able to meet different people and began working with different community organizations like the Crim Foundation and the Flint Bicycle Fest, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, the Youth Grant Council in Flint and the Youth Inclusion Program of Detroit.”
Cyclists ride to various points of interest, experiencing landscapes in and around the greater Flint and surrounding areas. When they complete the program, participants are awarded new bicycle packages: a new bicycle, helmet, front and rear lights, bike bag, reflective vest, bike lock and tire patches, Stamps explained.
The nine-week course is taught twice a year, May 3 – July 2 and July 12 – Sept. 10, 2021. Weekly classes are held from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the basement of Berston Field House at 3300 N. Saginaw St. Flint 48505. Classes are usually 15 to 17 students.
Stamps commented that the class can be hard — “especially for newbies.” In each class the students are riding five miles one way and sometimes the there are hills along the routes selected. But that’s part of the plan. Stamps said she is concerned that so many young people today have “normalized” being overweight and not exercising enough.
Students must attend classes at least twice a week during the nine-week course to receive the new bicycle package at the end. In the course they learn hand-signaling, proper clothing to wear, and riding posture. Stamps mentioned that she has friends who are “recreational bicyclists” and wear special biking outfits and gear. The students are taught what to carry with them in a backpack. A goal for each course session is ride 270 miles in nine weeks.
The application can be viewed and downloaded at the end of this article.Berston Bicycle Club application
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.