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Programs encourage Navajo youths to ride bikes

Mobile mechanic van travels reservation repairing bikes

Youth cycling programs that serve the Navajo Nation were featured during the Navajo Trails and Outdoor Recreation Conference held

In December, Gallup-based Silver Stallion Bicycle and Coffee Works created a Mobile Ride Center to repair bikes of youths on the Navajo Nation who have struggled under pandemic emergency orders.

Employing four to six trained mechanics, the nonprofit has serviced 428 bikes in eight Navajo communities, said project organizer Shaun Price.

“We want to empower kids to ride bikes and experience that freedom of discovering themselves and the land out their back doors,” he said at the conference, which was organized by Navajo Yes.

The mobile bike mechanic project was funded in part by a $10,000 grant from the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division.

“The mission is to develop bicycle infrastructure across Navajo country,” said supporter Renee Hutchings. “Bicycling connects our people and culture with the land.”

The traveling bike shop is crucial on the Navajo reservation, which lacks bicycle shops, organizers said.

Many opportunities that people in the U.S. take for granted do not readily exist on Native American reservations. Across the combined 29,500-plus square miles of Hopi and Diné (Navajo) land, there isn’t one bicycle shop, according to the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division.

Residents must travel to reservation border towns to find support. With the emergency health restrictions, such travel has become difficult.

In addition to free bike repairs, the mission includes education programs that teach youths how to repair their bikes. After a trainee completes a bike mechanic course, they can they can set up classes on the reservation to share skills.

“That way kids have the power and knowledge to get bikes up and running again,” Price said. “Many homes on the reservation have that rusted bike against the wall, probably because of a repair issue like a flat tire. Providing technical skills empowers youth to get that bike off the wall so they can experience the freedom and joy you find on a bike.”

The SiiHasin Bike Project in Indian Wells also fosters youth cycling through education programs, bike building workshops, bike giveaways, group rides and events.

The cycling program was started in 2012 as a tool to combat depression and suicide among youths, said organizer Cloudia Jackson.

“Biking is a tool that emphasizes wellness and raises resilience,” she said. “Learning the skill builds confidence and self-esteem. It helps form healthy relationships and positive behaviors for youth.”

Navajo kids learn about basic bike repair and maintenance as part of the SiiHasin Bike Project formed to encourage the activity.

The group collects donated bikes and does repairs, then distributes them to reservation youths.

Providing the bikes and teaching kids about bike safety and basic repair makes it more likely they will participate, Jackson said.

More bike teams are also being formed on the Navajo Nation.

The state funding for the Mobile Ride Center also helped bring in about $43,000 in out-of-state money to support the Navajo (Diné) mountain bike teams. Silver Stallion raised an additional $23,000 through public donations with a matching grant from the Outride Fund to support their youth bike development programs.

Silver Stallion Bicycle seeks to offset the lack of access to the sport of cycling on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

“This is absolutely a grassroots effort, but it also requires the support of heavy lifters like the (bicycle) industry and New Mexico State,” said Scott Nydam, executive director of Silver Stallion Bicycle & Coffee Works.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com