Khadim Lo is what we call a “roll model.” As a student at the International High School at Union Square, Khadim was instrumental in starting a bike club with support from Bike New York and Recycle-A-Bicycle. He was a Youth Ambassador in the 2015 TD Five Boro Bike Tour and was part of a group of students selected to represent New York City at the Youth Bike Summit in Seattle. Khadim spoke with Abbie Donoghue, our intrepid intern, about the freedom he’s discovered in learning to ride and fix bikes, the thrill of riding in the Tour, and why everyone would be happier if they left their cars behind.
Abbie Donoghue: Tell us a little bit about yourself — where are you from? How’d you get involved with Bike New York?
Khadim Lo: I am from Senegal. I came to this country on March 30th, 2011 and started school in May that year. I didn’t know how to ride a bike, but I saw my teacher, Meredith Klein, bring her bike to school all the time. I wanted her to teach me how to ride a bike, so in 2013 we started the Bike Club. One year later we started getting support from Bike New York and Recycle-A-Bicycle, who gave us bikes and taught us how to ride.
Did you ever want to ride while you were living in Senegal?
I really wanted to learn how to ride a bike in Senegal, but I never had the chance. It’s not like New York where you see people riding all the time. In Senegal, if you want to ride a bike, who’s going to teach you? Where are you going to ride? I learned how to ride here in just one day because I was focused and because of the Bike Club.
What was learning to ride like for you?
The first time I balanced the bike and started pedaling; I was like, “Yes! Yes! I’m riding! The bike is moving!” It was a once in a lifetime experience. I felt excited, very happy. It’s fun, but it’s more than that — you are building a mental calm.
It’s fun, but it’s more than that — you are building a mental calm.
How was learning to ride with all of your friends and classmates?
It’s really fun and we laugh a lot. Bike Club’s not just about learning how to ride a bike, it’s also about sharing that experience with other people.
Can you tell me a bit about the Bike Club? You learned to ride, then what? Group rides? Classes?
We did group rides and then we did the TD Five Boro Bike Tour. Last year we also started a mechanics class. We work with the mechanics at Recycle-A-Bicycle and they teach us how to fix bikes. We joke around, laugh a lot, and fix our bikes. It’s a very healthy activity — fixing your bike, riding your bike, and having fun at the same time.
It must feel very powerful to be able to fix your own bike.
It is! You might get charged a lot for something that takes only a second to fix. If you learn how to fix it yourself, you just have to buy your own tool and then you don’t need other people to do the job for you. My bike is a Peugeot. I changed it to 1 speed, which is more relaxed.
How many TD Five Boro Bike Tours have you ridden?
One so far. I learned how to ride a bike in May and then the next May, in 2015, I did the Tour. I am planning to ride this year, too.
So you learned in May, and the next year, you rode the Tour?
So you only had one year and then you rode 40 miles!?
Yes, and the 40 miles was not that difficult for some reason. It was very exciting!
Did you ever think, when you first started riding, when you were balancing without your pedals, wobbling around, that you would be riding the Tour?
Never. I was surprised I learned to ride so quickly. I never thought I would be riding 40 miles in one day. I also did the Twin Lights Ride in New Jersey, which was 30 miles. That one was definitely a little bit harder because there were more intense hills, but still very, very fun.
Tell me about your Tour experience.
It was awesome! One of the best parts of the Tour was the beginning when everyone just starts to ride. There’s a very exciting kind of energy. You don’t have to worry about any cars and you see a lot of unique bikes and people from all over.
One of the best parts of the Five Boro was the beginning when everyone just starts to ride. There’s a very exciting kind of energy.
I think Staten Island, at the very end. I was, like, “Woohoo! I made it!” That was really fun.
You went to the Youth Bike Summit in Seattle last year. What was that like?
It was pretty fun. Three other students and myself were selected to go. We made a documentary, which I edited, and I attended workshops and presentations. After I came back from Seattle, I wanted to move there! I really love that city.
Tell me about this documentary you made for the Bike Summit.
We interviewed people about their biking experience. It’s amazing how everyone’s got a different experience.
Did you interview mostly classmates, or people from all over?
Most of the people in the documentary are from my school, but there are a few from El Puente School, which is also biking school. We interviewed teachers, people from Recycle-A-Bicycle, and others attending the Bike Summit. It wasn’t just about our school.
How is working with the mechanics at RAB? Nice folks?
Yes, it’s just like a family. If something happens to my bike and I don’t understand, they’ll teach me about what’s going on, the names of parts and tools. If I need a part and I don’t have it, they’ll give it to me. They are amazing.
What’s next for you? Are you thinking about doing movies?
Lately, I’ve just been working. I’m planning to go to college but I don’t know exactly where. It’s tough to figure that out. I am planning to go to Senegal soon because I’ve not been back in five years, so that’s five years since I’ve seen my Mom.
Do you think you will be biking forever?
Definitely. I will be riding a bike for the rest of my life.
Do you think you’ll stay involved with the community teaching?
I do. It’s something that I can pass on and teach to other kids, and then they can pass it on to their family and friends. I want everyone to know how amazing riding a bike is.
In a Metro article, you were quoted as saying “New Yorkers would be happier if they all rode bikes.” I loved what you said! Could you explain that a bit?
For me, riding a bike is building peace. For example, if I’m stressed out, and I just want to get out of my house, I don’t need to wait for the train or anything, I can just ride somewhere by the water and sit down. You see people in cars stressed out. Everyone would be much happier and much more peaceful if they left their cars behind.
Everyone would be much happier and much more peaceful if they left their cars behind.
What advice would you give people who want to learn how to ride a bike, or didn’t know how to ride at all? What would you tell them?
If you don’t know how to ride a bike, join a program that teaches you. If you know how to ride a bike, don’t stop! Keep riding!