When Susan B. Anthony penned her famous quote in 1896 about the bicycle doing more to emancipate women than anything else, she called a woman on a bike “the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” Those were the days before modern cycling with shim shifters, stubby stems, 30 kinds of seats and fingerless gloves with sonic-welded pull tabs. Today, a woman might enter the often male-dominated world of a bike shop and be frustrated before she even buys her first bike.
Craig Dodson wants to change all that, and a piece of the world, too. A former elite cyclist who spent many years on the road racing, the 32-year-old has the whippet-thin grace of someone who pedals many a hard mile, and the radiant intensity of someone who knows his purpose. Founder of Richmond Cycling Corps, a nonprofit that provides cycling experience to inner-city youth, Dodson recently opened a studio, as opposed to a bike store, in Scott’s Addition.
Renovated with a $3,500 budget and the sweat equity of any self-respecting nonprofit, the studio looks urban chic with painted brick, concrete floors and a new outpost of Lamplighter coffee, Kickstand, right in the building. Appointment-only consultations take place at the former warehouse’s focal point, a handsome table, where Dodson takes clients through the process of buying their first bikes, or through custom fittings to make bikes that they already own work.
“When we thought about opening the studio with sales, service and consulting, that was a big motivator … the vulnerability of somebody new to cycling,” Dodson says. “When you start with the base that all the money you make is going to inner-city kids and build from there, you are building without ego.”
The classes offered also have a twist. “It’s hard for me to take people’s money unless I’m educating them,” says Dodson, who holds a master’s degree in movement science. “It’s not a spin class, it’s an educational platform. We do drills, but I’m teaching why we’re doing it and how the body is responding to what we are doing.” He says the education piece makes people better cyclists and enables them to enjoy the sport more.
Out back, beyond the good local coffee and state-of-the-art stationary trainers, is what Dodson calls “the true heart” of Richmond Cycling Corps: a bread truck. Fitted to transport kids, bikes, helmets and assorted gear, the truck goes to Fairfield Court twice a week. There Dodson and Walker Owen, the operations director Dodson calls “the soul of the organization,” work with kids using the Boys and Girls Club as a home base.
The goal is to get them ready for the Livestrong Challenge, which takes place in Philadelphia. Last August, Chris Mason, 17, met his goal of riding 100 miles. “We’re talking bad conditions,” Dodson says. “It was pouring down rain. And he not only did it, he destroyed that ride. He was passing people who were quitting, people who have had a much easier life than he has, on much more expensive bikes.” Eight inner-city youth rode a total of 345 miles in one day.
Dodson’s dream is a fleet of trucks, one for each of Richmond’s housing projects. “We get to help our clients do what they love to do and ride their bikes, and we get to help these kids, which is our passion.”
For information see richmondcyclingcorps.org or call 525-8200.
This story originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Belle Magazine.