Youth Bike Summit creates lifelong bicycle enthusiasts and leaders

This fall, hundreds of kids, their parents, youth leaders and bike enthusiasts will gather in Arlington, Virginia for the seventh annual Youth Bike Summit to help shape the future of cycling in the United States and around the world. For a weekend, participants will gather to listen to seminars, take part in a group ride, share their ideas, learn from others and be inspired to take action in their own communities.

The Youth Bike Summit (YBS) was born out of the National Bike Summit, an annual gathering of cyclists on Capitol Hill. In 2010, two young ladies traveled to the National Bike Summit with Pasqualina Azzarello, who, at the time, was running Recycle-A-Bicycle, a bike shop in New York City that offers high school internships and training programs designed to teach, empower and improve the wellbeing of youth in the city. Kimberly White and Kristi Nanco were juniors in high school and part of the youth ambassadors program at the shop. At the National Bike Summit, they discovered that the other attendees were more than interested in talking to these two young women of color, to hear their story, why they cared about bikes and what they were doing at this gathering that typically consisted of middle-aged white men.

The lack of diversity at the Summit astounded them – White and Nanco were used to seeing a wide variety of different people riding bikes for a wide variety of reasons in New York City. But they were also impressed with the interest in youth issues and realized that there were probably a lot of other young people out there who wanted to be part of the conversation but maybe didn’t feel comfortable speaking up or didn’t feel like their voice matters.

The two young women were so inspired by the National Bike Summit that on the bus ride back from Washington D.C. to New York, they crafted an idea – hold a bike summit especially for young people, where everyone could feel comfortable talking and sharing ideas.

By the time they got home, White, Nanco and Azzarello had a plan. The first Youth Bike Summit took place in 2011 at Parsons in New York City and drew 175 people from 14 states. The gathering highlighted just how much was being done every day in local communities and was a place for everyone to come together and share resources, learn from each other and unite with a common goal and passion.

The Summit was a success, and it continued for three more years at Parsons before moving to Seattle, Minneapolis, and now Arlington. The idea behind holding it in different locations is to engage more local communities. A local host city committee, consisting of both kids and adults, is involved in the planning process each year and takes ownership of various parts of the Summit. One cool thing about this year’s committee is that the local schools are on it because Washington D.C. and Arlington have started offering bicycle education as part of their elementary school curriculum, an encouraging sign for the future of bicycle advocacy!

While the name might suggest that the Youth Bike Summit is a gathering of kids only, the ratio of youth to adults is actually about 50/50, though the low end of the age range that attends the summit is decreasing, meaning that younger and younger kids are attending. The first Summit saw mainly high schoolers and young adults (ages 14-24), but in recent years, more elementary school and middle school kids have been attending. The Summit organizers have been working on developing a wide variety of workshops that will interest younger kids as well as their families and educators.

The YBS kicks off on Friday night with registration and a social. Saturday is full of sessions – 36 or so in all – ranging from planning a bike trip with kids to using bicycles to connect with communities to yoga for cyclists. Sunday morning there’s a big group ride, followed by the “visioning session,” which is a two-hour period when everyone gathers together at the end of the conference to discuss their ideas. The vision (pun intended) for this gathering of the minds is to make the best of the time period of incredible inspiration after a weekend at the Summit and before heading home, back to the “real world.” Participants brainstorm in small focus groups to create action items to take back to their local communities, and at the end of the visioning session, share those ideas with everyone.

The goal of the Youth Bike Summit is to cultivate a lifelong love of cycling and provide national support for the work being done in local communities every day. The Summit helps create leaders and empowered young people, some of whom go on to jobs in the cycling industry. It’s a place for kids to learn that their opinions matter and figure out new ways to express themselves. It’s a safe space for people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities to gather, talk about their ideas and share a passion for cycling.

The 2017 Youth Bike Summit will take place October 6-8 at the Hyatt Regional Crystal City hotel and conference center in Arlington, Virginia. For more information, a schedule for the weekend and to register, check out the Youth Bike Summit website.