As a young boy, Charley Gates built bike ramps in his backyard. As he grew up, he got into road biking, mountain biking and today is an enthusiastic cargo biker.
It seems logical that he would help start the all-volunteer nonprofit, I am RVA, which is dedicated to promoting bike safety, in 2015. Beginning as its vice president and moving to president a few years later, Gates was part of a team that made meaningful donations to groups such as Friends of the James River, Richmond Public Schools, as well as individual victims of traumatic brain injuries. I am RVA raises funds by selling a distinctive chrome bike helmet, designed to be a visually compelling symbol of unity, in addition to merchandise such as T-shirts and hoodies, with 80% of the proceeds going to Richmond charities and schools.
The signature Richmond chrome helmet is instantly recognizable on local streets. “We wanted to create a helmet people would want to wear and wasn’t dorky looking,” Gates says. “We wanted to make safety cool, with a visual representation of a unified city.”
The pandemic hit I am RVA hard though, because selling their merchandise at local events and festivals had been their bread and butter. After two years of focusing on online sales, Gates and the other volunteer board members are gearing up to have a presence at every Richmond event possible this year. “We are really pent up and ready to go, so you’ll be seeing us everywhere selling our merchandise,” he says. “I’m confident it’ll be our best financial year yet.”
Getting kids on bikes and promoting safety are both essential elements of I am RVA's mission. The organizers offer bike safety courses, free tune-up days and also advocate for bike safety issues.
“When I was a kid in the ‘90s, I’d hide my helmet in the woods so the other kids wouldn’t tease me,” Gates recalls. “Our goal is to get kids outside and make them lifelong cyclists by providing a cool, silver helmet. When they pass someone with the same helmet, it’s a symbol of a united Richmond.”