Photo courtesy Richmond Cycling Corps
Five years ago, Craig Dodson detoured his professional cycling career into a pursuit motivated by something more than dreams of glory at the finish line. He established a nonprofit called Richmond Pro Cycling and built a team of young guys who spent half their time pushing pedals competitively and the other half on community service. That was the model: elite athletes as role models, mentors and civic volunteers.
The pro cycling function fell to the side a couple of years ago, however. The nonprofit, now known as Richmond Cycling Corps, focuses exclusively on enrichment activities and character development for young inner-city residents.
RCC, put plainly, has gone gangbusters. It’s steadily getting more city kids on bikes, sponsoring them on travel adventures and races far afield from Richmond, and teaching them how to maintain and fix the machines they ride. Corporate sponsors such as Bon Secours, Carmax, Groundforce IT and Dominion have thrown support to its mission, as Dodson has racked up accolades around town, including a C3 Creativity Award and the Valentine History Maker Award.
Dodson and his nonprofit were the subject of a 2011 feature in Richmond magazine, as he and his staff accompanied a group of kids to Philadelphia for an event that draws thousands of cycling enthusiasts.
In February, RCC launched a mountain biking team at Armstrong High School, where it also used nearby acreage to carve out a 1.5-mile trail circuit with tricky “skills features,” the Armstrong Bike Park; according to the nonprofit, it’s the nation’s only inner-city school with this level of dedication to cycling and its own mountain biking trail. In fact, the Armstrong High team finished third out of 15 teams in this year’s National Interscholastic Cycling Association’s state mountain bike racing series this fall.
And yesterday, more big news for RCC: It announced it’s significantly growing its footprint in the city’s East End by taking on take on three more schools — Woodville Elementary, Fairfield Court Middle and MLK Middle.
The expansion will channel more resources into the Armstrong Bike Park, Dodson says. In January, the 10-acre park will have a shelter incorporating two heavy-duty freight containers for storage and where RCC can offer mechanical service on its bikes and others owned by local youths.
“We’re going to craft it into a sort of ‘barn.’ Functionally, it's going to have all of our beginner bikes,” he says. A peaked roof will span over the pillar-like freight containers, forming a tunnel through which the park’s trail will run. He adds, “It’s going to be interactive and really cool.”