By Bobby Panza
A new free bike camp wrapped up its inaugural session on the Upper West Side last Friday. The program, Ride Up Grades, brought teenagers from around the city together to learn about mechanics and health, while setting personal goals to take their cycling game to the next level in Riverside Park.
The founders of Ride Up Grades, Aliya Tyus-Barnwell and Tracy Norton-Fisher, met in high school and bonded over music and life at large. The two women stayed in touch, and both got into cycling — Aliya even became a cycling instructor. They decided to try to start their own youth cycling program.
During the pandemic, Aliya and Tracy raised $15k for their dream. A portion of the funds came from friends and family who supported their vision. They also received a matching $15k grant from the Outride Fund, a program that aims to empower local cycling groups. After months of isolation due to Covid, they wanted to create a program that would bring teens together, get them outside, and teach them about staying healthy.
Trek Bicycle Upper West Side 96th, at 231 West 96th Street, between Amsterdam and Broadway, is a partner of Ride Up Grades. They donated a fleet of their top-of-the line ‘Domane SL6’ road bicycles, valued at over $4k per bike, for the campers to use while in session. Aliya and Tracy identified Trek and this particular location as an ideal potential partner because of its proximity to several great riding trails, including Riverside Park, Central Park and the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway Bike Path.
Aliya tapped a member of the Ride Up Grades board, Alex Ostroy, of the popular cycling sportswear brand, Ostroy, to help make the connection with Trek. Aliya met Ostroy in the cycling scene and it wasn’t long before Trek joined the Ride Up Grades effort.
Tatiana Koufopanteli, general manager of the Trek store, told WSR, “Bike camp is a great way to get the younger generation engaged and cycling. We want to support our youth any way we can and cycling comes with so many positive benefits.” Koufopanteli went on to say, “Tracy and Aliya did an amazing job putting together this program, it was great seeing the kids learn the fundamentals of cycling, along with being introduced to the amazing possibilities, adventures and community that comes with it.”
Every day the camp met at Trek’s shop, before moving over to Riverside to ride and learn about biking best practices.
WSR spoke to camper Thomas Jordan, who said the camp has been a great source of exercise and information, making him a better rider who’s learning more about a healthy lifestyle. “I love it here,” Jordan said.
Tracy Norton-Fisher said it was “a little emotional” seeing her dream come to fruition. “I get emails from parents telling me their kids are coming home exhausted, which is good,” she laughed, “because that means they’re getting a good workout. Seeing the campers come together, learning and growing, that’s what it’s all about.”
The camp’s first session was a success in terms of participation. All 20 bikes in their arsenal were utilized. Aliya and Tracy posted about Ride Up Grades on various internet forums, while reaching out to NYC schools, asking them to share the opportunity with their students. The camp’s culminating ride — for campers who were up for it — was up the Manhattan Waterfront Green Bike Path alongside the West Side Highway, over the George Washington Bridge into Palisades, New Jersey, and back again.
Alia Goddess, from Soundview in the Bronx, told WSR, “I initially wanted a summer job, then I was like, oh my god, I can bike over the summer! So, I signed up.” The camp’s first session ran week days from July 12-23. “At the beginning of August, I apparently have a bunch of homework due, so it was perfect timing,” Alia said with a smile.
Ride Up Grades is planning to expand with more locations for future sessions. Follow them here for updates.