For anyone familiar with public housing, it’s bound to be a jarring sight: A self-described “skinny white guy in Spandex” glides through a Richmond housing project trailed by a group of mostly black teenagers — also in Spandex. All of them perched atop touring bicycles.
The white guy’s name is Craig Dodson, founder and director of the Richmond Cycling Corps. The others are residents of Fairfield Court. Twice a week, from summer through the fall riding seasons, Dodson trucks road-race-class bikes to Richmond’s East End to lead a small group of youth on a bike tour of the neighborhood. This is no leisurely ride. The trips up and down Fulton Hill and through Montrose Heights can be grueling, he says. Fitness, however, isn’t necessarily the mission of the program.
The bikes are the proverbial spoonful of sugar, Dodson says. “The goal of the program is to develop leaders, and to give kids a positive alternative to some of the negative things they’re exposed to simply because of where they live.”
Dodson moved to Richmond in 2007 after graduating with a degree in kinesiology from Western New Mexico University. A former professional bike racer, he wanted to stay involved with the sport while providing outreach to kids in need. The program offers a small number of interested participants a bike, appropriate gear and the opportunity to “achieve something” through bike riding, Dodson says.
In the 18 months since its founding, an estimated 27 kids have participated in the program. Last August, two of his young charges rode more than 50 miles in one session during a biking field trip to Philadelphia. “It’s been amazing to see biking cross over those cultural boundaries,” Dodson says.
When not overseeing the business of the program, Dodson serves on Mayor Dwight Jones’ Pedestrian, Bicycling and Trails Planning Commission.
Dodson recently opened a bike studio in Scott’s Addition, and hopes to expand his Cycling Corps project to a second Richmond housing project in time for the start of the spring biking season.