By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
BURLINGTON — Third-grader Isaac Ducharme loves taking long bike rides with his family, but doesn’t have much of a chance to do that during the school week. Now, thanks to the new Bike Club at his school, Notre Dame Catholic, he’s able to take a teacher-guided ride alongside his classmates after school. “It’s fun and gives kids a chance to bike when their parents can’t always bike with them,” he said of the club.
In March, fifth-grade teacher and basketball coach Jon Riffel, with the help of physical education teacher Aaron Skopec, started the Bike Club at Notre Dame. Riffel said he got the idea after some of his basketball students started talking about how much they enjoy bicycling.
Riffel said, “I’ve ridden on several RAGBRAIS, so I’m a pretty avid biker myself. I thought, ‘You know what? If there is interest, we could get something started.’”
Twice a week, students in grades three through 12 meet after school and break into two groups — one for a shorter, 5 mile-or-less ride, and one for a longer ride. After praying a “bicyclist’s prayer” together and inflating tires, Riffel takes one group and Skopec takes the other. Riffel maps out different routes so that no two rides are ever exactly the same. “I’ve lived in Burlington my whole life; I know the less-trafficked areas which are safer to ride on, and I’ve also taken the mileage for those.”
The variety makes the rides more interesting for the students, Riffel observes. “They get to go a little farther and maybe see an area they hadn’t ridden to before.”
Attendance is not mandatory; the students are welcome to join in whenever it fits their schedule. So far, most of the participants are younger, as many junior high and high school students are currently out for spring sports. The group has about 25 members. Usually, about 10 students will participate any given afternoon.
Riffel said parents are “really glad we are doing this with the kids,” especially those parents who do not bike or do not own a bike. They appreciate the opportunity for their children to take a structured ride.
For students whose parents enjoy biking — like Isaac’s — a family bike ride is offered on Saturday. Depending on who shows up, the group may go on one short or long ride, or split into two groups.
Isaac said of the club, “It gives me a chance to bike a little bit more.”