This article & video originally appeared on WCSH6.com
On Friday, June 14, LD 1460, “A Bill To Revise Maine Bicycle Law,” became Maine State Law!
Here’s what LD 1460 does for you:
1. It clarifies that the operator of the bicycle determines where it is safest and most “practicable” to ride on a roadway. This common sense change clarifies that when a bicyclist feels the need to use a travel lane (for example, because a shoulder is not in safe condition), the bicyclist has a clear legal right to do so.
2. It makes the collision of a car with a bike while passing “prima facie” evidence of a violation of the three foot law. If the car hits the bike, it didn’t give three feet! It is our hope that this change will encourage more citations for violations of the three foot law, whether or not a collision occurs.
3. It clarifies that cars may not make turns in front of bicycles when doing so interferes with the safe and legal operation of a bicycle.
Enacting this bill is just the beginning of what we hope will be a process that changes Maine’s bike laws to improve safety and accessibility for all riders. Your membership and support of the Coalition helps us make the roads safer for YOU!
The complete text of the law is as follows:
Act To Update and Clarify the Laws Governing the Operation of Bicycles on Public Roadways
Sec. 1. 29-A MRSA §101, sub-§9, as amended by PL 2001, c. 148, §1, is repealed and the following enacted in its place:
Sec. 2. 29-A MRSA §101, sub-§63-B is enacted to read:
Sec. 3. 29-A MRSA §101, sub-§66-B is enacted to read:
Sec. 4. 29-A MRSA §101, sub-§83, as enacted by PL 1993, c. 683, Pt. A, §2 and affected by Pt. B, §5, is amended to read:
Sec. 5. 29-A MRSA §101, sub-§86-C is enacted to read:
Sec. 6. 29-A MRSA §2060, sub-§1-A, as amended by PL 2009, c. 484, §3, is further amended to read:
If a right turn, or an attempted right turn, by a person operating a motor vehicle is immediately followed by a collision or accident involving a bicyclist or roller skier, there is a rebuttable presumption of negligence on the part of the person operating the motor vehicle making or attempting to make the right turn.
Sec. 7. 29-A MRSA §2063, as amended by PL 2009, c. 484, §5, is further amended to read:
§ 2063. Bicycles, roller skis and scooters
This subsection does not apply in a municipality that, by ordinance approved by the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Transportation, makes other provisions regarding the operating location of a bicycle or roller skier on a roadway.
In case of any conflict with any local ordinance or regulation, the provisions of this subsection govern the rights and responsibilities of persons operating bicycles and roller skiers.
The operator of a bicycle or roller skis A person operating a bicycle or roller skis on a way separated by curbing or other physical barrier need not stop on meeting or passing a school bus traveling in a lane separated by the barrier from the lane in which that person is traveling.
Sec. 8. 29-A MRSA §2070, sub-§1-A, as amended by PL 2009, c. 484, §6, is repealed and the following enacted in its place:
Sec. 9. 29-A MRSA §2070, sub-§6, as amended by PL 2009, c. 484, §7, is further amended to read:
An operator may pass on the right only under conditions permitting that movement in safety. An operator may not overtake by driving off the pavement or main traveled portion of the way.
A person operating a bicycle or roller skis may pass a vehicle on the right at the bicyclist’s or roller skier’s own risk. This subsection does not apply to a person operating a bicycle or roller skis.
Sec. 10. 29-A MRSA §2070, sub-§6-A is enacted to read:
As used in this subsection, “pass” means to move any portion of a bicycle or roller ski beyond any portion of a vehicle being overtaken.
Sec. 11. 29-A MRSA §2084, sub-§1, as repealed and replaced by PL 2003, c. 510, Pt. A, §25, is amended to read:
A bicyclist may also use optional supplementary reflectors, lights or reflective or lighted safety equipment.
A light attached to the operator of a bicycle, scooter or motorized bicycle or tricycle must satisfy the requirements for lighting set forth in this subsection.
Sec. 12. 29-A MRSA §2322, sub-§1, as enacted by PL 1999, c. 331, §1, is repealed.
Sec. 13. 29-A MRSA §2322, sub-§9, as enacted by PL 1999, c. 331, §1, is amended to read:
Sec. 14. Maine Revised Statutes headnote amended; revision clause. In the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 29-A, in the Title headnote, the words “motor vehicles” are amended to read “vehicles and traffic” and the Revisor of Statutes shall implement this revision when updating, publishing or republishing the statutes.
This bill amends and clarifies the laws regarding bicycles in the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 29-A in the following ways.
1. It amends the definition of “bicycle” to mean a vehicle propelled exclusively by human power, designed to be operated on the ground on 2 or more wheels and having a seat or saddle. Current law refers to a bicycle as a “device.”
2. It adds definitions of “roadway,” “shoulder” and “travel lane” and amends the definition of “traffic” to include bicycles.
3. It prohibits the operator of a motor vehicle from making a right turn near a bicyclist or roller skier unless the turn can be made in a manner that does not interfere with the safe and legal operation of the bicycle or roller skis. Current law prohibits a vehicle operator from making a right turn unless it can be made with reasonable safety. The bill also establishes a rebuttable presumption of negligence on the part of the operator of a motor vehicle making or attempting to make the right turn if that action is immediately followed by a collision or accident involving a bicyclist or roller skier.
4. Current law requires a bicyclist or roller skier to operate as far to the right as practicable except when it is unsafe to do so or, among other conditions, when a lane of substandard width makes it unsafe to continue along the right portion of the way. This bill provides that a bicyclist or roller skier does not have to keep as far to the right as practicable if proceeding in a travel lane that is too narrow for a bicyclist or roller skier and a vehicle to travel safely side by side in the lane, based on an operational space by the bicyclist or roller skier of 4 feet and a distance between the bicyclist or roller skier and the vehicle of at least 3 feet.
5. Current law allows a bicyclist or roller skier to operate on a paved shoulder of the road. This bill specifies that this provision does not require the bicyclist or roller skier to operate on the paved shoulder. This bill allows a bicyclist or roller skier to use the entire width of the shoulder if bicycling or roller skiing there.
6. Current law requires the operator of a motor vehicle, when passing a bicyclist or roller skier, to leave a distance of at least 3 feet between the motor vehicle and the bicyclist or roller skier. This bill clarifies the conditions under which the pass may take place and provides that a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicyclist or roller skier that results in bodily injury to the bicyclist or roller skier creates a rebuttable presumption that a violation of the law by the operator of the motor vehicle occurred.
7. Current law allows a bicyclist or roller skier to pass a vehicle on the right at the bicyclist’s or roller skier’s own risk. This bill strikes that provision of law, clarifies when a bicyclist or roller skier may pass on the right and allows the bicyclist or roller skier to assume that the operators of vehicles on the roadway will operate their vehicles in accordance with the law and in a reasonably prudent manner.
8. It requires a bicycle operated in the nighttime to be equipped with a red rear light that is visible at least 200 feet to the rear of the bicycle and it requires any auxiliary lights attached to the bicyclist to meet the requirements for lights attached to the bicycle.
9. It repeals the definition of “bicycle” in the Bicycle and Roller Skis Safety Education Act. This definition is made redundant by the change to the definition of “bicycle” for Title 29-A.
10. It amends the definition of “public roadway” for purposes of the Bicycle and Roller Skis Safety Education Act to remove the definition’s emphasis on motor vehicle traffic.
11. It changes the headnote of the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 29-A to “Vehicles and Traffic” to reflect the application of the Title to more than motor vehicles.
This article originally appeared in the Bangor Daily News.
If you’re an avid cyclist who has been considering spending the second week of September with hundreds of others who share your passion for the sport, your time is running out.
Brian Allenby, the communications director for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, said the deadline for entry into BikeMaine 2013 is looming, and prospective riders should plan to enter by June 14.
BikeMaine 2013 is a 400-mile tour that will take riders across Eastern Maine over a seven-day span. The tour begins and ends in Orono, but overnight stops in Dover-Foxcroft, Belfast, Castine, Bar Harbor and Ellsworth are planned.
Allenby said that some riders have told him they thought they had no chance of getting into the first-time ride.
“There’s still room on the ride,” Allenby said. “Initially there was a lot of hype about it and a lot of folks thought it sold out immediately. There’s been a great response, but we’re lucky enough to have a few spots available and we’re looking to fill these up by June 14.”
While in each town, participants will be treated to meals featuring locally grown or produced products.
While Bicycle Coalition of Maine officials have cautioned prospective participants that BikeMaine 2013 shouldn’t be taken lightly — covering 400 miles in a week requires more than a basic level of fitness — Allenby said entrants needn’t be avid racers or top-notch endurance athletes to enjoy the ride.
“I think it’s important to reiterate that you don’t have to be a superman to ride this ride,” Allenby said. “If you’re a fit rider with some training this summer, you’ll be able to do it.”
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has put a few training hints and guidelines on its website, which will help guide participants through pre-ride training.
“It gives a month-by-month breakdown of how much riding you should be doing,” Allenby said.
Allenby said more in-depth training guides will be posted to the site as the ride approaches.
This year organizers have capped the field of riders at 350; the entry fee is $875.
Billed as a “400-mile celebration of Maine,” the tour includes camping at each site, along with 18 meals, entertainment and support along the route.
And Allenby said Bicycle Coalition of Maine officials have already heard from communities that might be interested in getting involved with future BikeMaine events.
“When we’re in other parts of the state working on other portions of the coalition programming, we’ve had people ask what it takes to be a BikeMaine community,” he said.
Saturday, Sept. 7, Arrive in Orono
Day 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Orono to Dover-Foxcroft, 70 miles
Day 2: Monday, Sept. 9, Dover-Foxcroft to Belfast, 69 miles.
Day 3: Tuesday, Sept. 10, Belfast to Castine, 73 miles.
Day 4: Wednesday, Sept. 11, Castine to Bar Harbor, 62 miles.
Day 5: Thursday, Sept. 12, rest day in Bar Harbor.
Day 6: Friday, Sept. 13, Bar Harbor to Camp Jordan, Ellsworth, 69 miles.
Day 7: Saturday, Sept. 14, Camp Jordan, Ellsworth, to Orono, 57 miles.
Editor’s ote: BDN Maine is a sponsor of BikeMaine 2013.
This article originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald.
Posted: June 09. 2013 10:31PM
Maine Voices: Clash between driver, cyclist spotlights need to review rules of the road
We can all share Maine’s roadways, but it takes courtesy and respect to do so peacefully.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Tasse is education director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and director of the Maine Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Education Program.
PORTLAND — Last week’s incident between a driver and cyclist on the Martin’s Point Bridge in Portland has raised everyone’s awareness about bikes and motorists sharing Maine’s roadways. Thankfully, incidents like the one on the bridge are relatively rare in Maine, but while everyone is thinking about bikes and cars right now, we have a a good opportunity to review the laws and best practices that apply to situations where bikes and cars meet.
By state law, bicyclists should ride with traffic, in the street, “as far to the right as practicable.” In most cases, that will put bicycles in the right-hand third of a travel lane, or on a shoulder if it is safe to use, but there are situations when taking more of the road may be necessary.
Bikes may legally use more of a travel lane when passing parked cars, avoiding obstacles or when the lane is too narrow for a car and a bike to share (as is the case with the Martin’s Point Bridge, which is marked with “shared lane markings” and “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs during construction). Even on roads where bicycle lanes exist, it may be necessary to move into the travel lane to avoid opened doors, parked cars or other obstacles.
Riding on the sidewalks is not recommended for persons over the age of 12 and is illegal in some communities in Maine. If you must ride on the sidewalk, you must yield to pedestrians and alert them before passing.
Passing cars on the right can be dangerous, but it is legal under state law at a cyclist’s own risk.
Bicyclists should expect treatment no different from that of other users of the roads. Bicyclists should stop at all stop signs and red lights, and they should not go out of turn at intersections. A bicyclist’s actions should never force another user who had the right of way to have to stop.
Wearing a helmet and following the law not only protects you from crashes, it also preserves your legal rights if a crash does occur.
And bicyclists, although you have every right to the road, please try to be considerate of the whole traffic system as you drive your bike. Don’t forget what it is like to drive a car while you’re on your bicycle. You have a right to the full travel lane in some cases, but be judicious where and when you take it.
When you stop, please step completely off the pavement. Respect private property. Obey the principles of traffic law. Yield to pedestrians.
By virtue of the number, size and power of their vehicles, motorists carry a special responsibility for creating safety on the roads. Please be considerate of other users on the road. It is terrifying to a cyclist or pedestrian when a car passes them fast and close.
Remember that a car can be lethal to vulnerable users like bicyclists and walkers! Follow posted speed limits and obey traffic signs and lights. Avoid using cellphones and other electronic devices while driving.
Remember that “Yield” means to slow down and wait for other vehicles. Motorists should expect other users, including walkers and bicyclists, on the roadways.
Motorists should also remember that bicyclists have a right to the road and should be treated like any other slow-moving traffic (such as farm tractors) when they are encountered. Motorists should slow and stay behind such traffic until it is safe to pass.
By Maine state law, bicyclists (and pedestrians) must be passed with at least 3 feet of space. If you can’t give them at least 3 feet, you should slow down and wait for a safer place to pass.
Maine is a great place to enjoy summer, whether on foot, on a bike or on the road to the beach. All users should remember that we’re all going to be out there on the roads together, and that we should try to be courteous and respectful of other users’ rights to our public ways. Let’s have a safe and calm summer season on the roads this year!
— Special to the Press Herald
This program originally appeared on MPBN.
Bicycling in Maine
May 29, 2013
The best trails and gear as well as buying advice and tips for tuning up your bike for the summer riding season were discussed.
Host Jennifer Rooks was joined by: Brian Danz, bike guy and Nancy Grant; Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and Joe Minutolo, co-owner – Bar Harbor Bike Shop
Click here for more information and the page with links.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 28, 2013
Construction Starts on Pathways & Safe Routes to School Pedestrian Crossings in Three Neighborhoods
PORTLAND, Maine – Starting later this week and continuing through the summer, the City of Portland in partnership with the Maine Department of Transportation will construct multiple Safe Routes to School funded projects in three neighborhoods, East End, East Deering and North Deering. First, construction will begin in the East End on two shared-use pathway projects that also include enhancing safe pedestrian and bicycle crossings at two locations (see attached graphics).
The first project will widen the existing 5’ wide sidewalk along Washington Avenue from the Eastern Prom to connect to the pathway on the I-295 Exit 8 southbound off-ramp. The project will construct a 10’ shared-use path separated from the roadway by a 4’-6’ wide grassed esplanade. The crossing of Washington Avenue at Eastern Promenade will also be enhanced by a pedestrian refuge island and pedestrian-activated flashers.
The second project reconfigures the ramp from Washington Avenue to Anderson and Plowman Streets to include a 10’ wide shared-use pathway. The crossing of the ramp at Washington Avenue will be enhanced by shortening the crossing distance, higher visibility crosswalk markings, and adding pedestrian-activated flashers. This path will create bicycle and pedestrian access to and from East Bayside and the Bayside Trail to Munjoy Hill and Tukey’s Bridge/the Back Cove Trail/East Deering.
While work is underway on these two projects, bicyclists and pedestrians will generally be required to use alternate routes to access the shared-use pathway on Tukey’s Bridge and the Back Cove Trail from the East End. Signs will direct path users to use alternate routes when access is closed within the work area. Work is expected to be complete in four weeks.
The third project, scheduled to begin in July, will enhance two existing pedestrian crossings serving the Presumpscot Elementary School in East Deering. Both crossing locations will have ADA-compliant curb ramps installed, pedestrian refuge islands constructed, and add pedestrian-activated flashers.
The fourth project, also to be completed in July, will upgrade the existing pedestrian warning/crosswalk signs at the crosswalk across Washington Avenue at Maine Avenue with a pedestrian-activated flasher system.
While the projects are underway, motorists are advised to be mindful of pedestrians and bicyclists in the work zone. Motor vehicle traffic will be maintained through each of the work zones.
The projects are funded with a combination of federal, state and local Safe Routes to School funds targeted to create a safer walking and bicycling environment for elementary and middle school students.
This article originally appeared on pressherald.com
Allen Afield: Hybrid bicycle can be a novice cyclist’s best choice
By Ken Allen
In spring, folks wanting to get into bicycling seek advice from me about what model to buy, and my answer begins with a question. Does the novice wants to ride paved roads, forest trails or both?
Many predictably ask for a compromise that works on pavement as well as on light-duty forest paths — the latter say gravel roads or trails minus big rocks, deep sand, long, steep drops, etc. That info narrows the choices.
My suggestion provides an inexpensive compromise between a road bike and mountainbike — a hybrid bicycle with 28 to 33mm (and wider) tires, flat handlebar and grip shifters. Hybrids also go by the name “cross” bike, because they are literally a cross between a road and mountainbike.
Older newbies often want to hit highways exclusively, so I urge them toward road bikes — and often fail — because they gravitate toward wider tires on a hybrid. (More on this later.) Younger beginners often have a yen to pedal down a mountainside or along ridge tops — mountainbike country.
Serious pedalers may go 60 to 150 miles per week, depending on age and condition, which sounds like a lot to novices. However, even slow pokes average 12 mph, so in an hour, they pedal 12 miles, and in two hours cover 24 miles. Multiply that by five days per week — 60 to 120 miles like nothing. These people making it a way of life can justify spending more on bicycles.
My adult bicycling phase started pretty much as many folks did. I began with an ultra-inexpensive bike from a lawn sale to see if I liked the sport — a $7.50 purchase to be exact — chump change.
Then, 20 years ago at L.L.Bean, I bought a neat cross bicycle for $500, the green-colored Acadia model — not to be confused with the newer, Schwinn-built Acadia Cruiser that replaced my model in Bean’s inventory.
The old, narrow-tubed, steel frame Acadia looked snazzy like an old-fashioned road bike except for the wider 33mm tires, flat bar and grip shifters, a reasonably priced machine.
I adored that early 1990s Acadia and rode it for a decade, but it was too slow on flat stretches to suit me. Eventually I bought road bicycles with 50-tooth chainrings and a small, 11-tooth option on the freewheel — a fast combination. I ran 23mm tires that create far less friction than fatter ones.
My first road bike had three chainrings — too cumbersome in my opinion. My current road bike has two chainrings, which gives me all the gear choices the heart desires. It weighs 18 pounds — very fast.
I go to the trouble of explaining my adult bicycling history, because many pedalers have followed a similar evolution. They start with a heavier, fatter-tire bicycle and then grow into a much lighter, skinny-tire model.
And as writer friend Bill Sheldon of Rhode Island once told me, “A road bike is like a Porsche, but a mountainbike is more like an SUV.”
Here’s a digression about road bikes. Though most newbies have never tried a bike with 23 to 25mm tires, a majority quickly admit that skinny tires bother them, a wicked universal thought with many newcomers.
I try to soothe their apprehension, but a tire the diameter of a man’s thumb frightens beginners, eyeballing such narrow rubber for the first time. They think, “Too tippy,” and often nothing I say alleviates the trepidation.
Folks starting with a hybrid or mountainbike have wasted no money on the first choice if they decide to buy a road bicycle later, because they realize that owning a bike exclusively for highways and another for woodland excursions offers “versatility” with a capital V.
1. A road bicycle for fast pedaling on pavement provides exercise, recreation and transportation, the latter say pedaling to work, stores, etc.
2. A flat-bar hybrid serves for light-duty off-road (fishing, hunting, birdwatching, etc.), and a mountainbike works for heavy- and light-duty off road. The latter usually has smaller chainrings than a hybrid, which makes climbing easier. In short, it’s an SUV — multipurpose to the core.
A quick point: Beginners on road bicycles worry about drop bars as being uncomfortable, because they must bend forward more than with flat bars. I don’t mind that position and, more importantly, drop bars give me different places to hold my hands, more comfortable than holding the old paws in the same place from start to finish, as we tend to do with flat bars.
Whatever the bicycle, a professional should help with fitting choices. I thought I knew plenty about fit, but an L.L.Bean pro with measuring tools and sharp eyes picked up a flaw in my road-bike fit. My saddle was a 1/4 inch too low, and raising it made a difference in pedaling comfort.
If folks have their hearts set on riding roads, I strongly suggest getting a road bike, but I also understand how narrow tires make newcomers leery. For those folks, a hybrid bike works until they become comfortable enough on a bike to buy the equivalent of a sports car — and then they have a second bicycle for ramming highways and the first bike for forest pedaling.
That’s the best of both worlds, and this month is the time to start.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at:
This article originally appeared on WMTW.com
Portland marks National Bike to Work Day
City also gets good rating in bicycle survey
PORTLAND, Maine —The city of Portland and the Maine Bicycle Coalition hosted a Friday morning event in Monument Square to celebrate National Bike to Work Day.
Bicyclists got snacks, drinks, prizes and safety tips.
“There’s an incredible range of people who have discovered that bike commuting is fun. It’s healthy, it’s affordable, it’s good for the environment and once you try it, you realize that it’s a really great way to go,” said Nancy Grant, executive director of the Maine Bicycle Coalition.
Bike to Work Day occurred at the same time Portland was ranked the 36th best city out of 100 for bicycle riding. The rating from walkscore.com included factors such as hills, traffic and bike lanes.
This article originally appeared on WGME.com
Celebrating National Bike To Work Day
Jim Tasse of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine says when you’re finally moving you need to ride on the right with traffic, and be as predictable as possible in your movement. Always use hand signals to show where you are going and obey all traffic signals and signs. You also want to leave at least three feet between you and parked cars and watch out for debris.
He also stresses that drivers need to be aware, be patient, and share the road. “It’s really important to understand a car can be a lethal weapon. What you might think of as some sort of gesture to you know teach a cyclist a lesson or even you’re just in a hurry and you’re trying to get by that cyclist can actually put that cyclist at grave risk of injury or death.”
Tasse also says before you hit the road make sure you are wearing a helmet and bright visible clothing that will not get caught in your chain or pedals.
This article originally appeared on KeepMECurrent.com
Better bikes Students learn life skills – and earn credits – while having fun
Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 9:57 am |Updated: 10:48 am, Thu May 9, 2013.
By Suzanne Hodgsonshodgson@keepmecurrent.com
WESTBROOK – Hundreds of different parts go into building and repairing a bike.
Not only are there different types of wheels depending on the kind of bicycle – a street bike with thin tires or a mountain bike with thicker rubber – there also are different chains, different pedals, even different-sized bolts holding the frame together.
Behind the back of the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center, there’s a small trailer, a portable classroom once used to house a computer class, that now acts as a bike garage for a small group of Westbrook alternative education students. The students spend their afternoons “wrenching” away at bikes that will be donated or sold in the community.
Now known as the Westbrook Rehab Education N’ Cycling Hub, or WRENCH, the challenging, hands-on program is meant to keep the students interested and engaged. It’s also an incentive for finishing out their high school careers.
“Fixing a bike, it’s all problem solving. A lot of these kids don’t have problem-solving skills or patience. This also adds to their work ethic and potential job experience,” said Shannon Belt, an alternative education teacher at the school.
“A lot of people look at a bike as a toy or convenience. A lot of kids here don’t have the ability to have a car. Bikes are a transportation piece, an environmental piece and help teach responsibility. I’m hoping as the program goes the conversation about bikes changes,” said Belt.
The program will celebrate its success at an event Friday, May 17, at 11:30 a.m., behind the vocational school. The public is invited.
Belt has eight students on the roster for his class. He said he usually sees less than that because many of the students aren’t motivated to come to school.
“It’s one class period a day at seventh period,” said Belt. “I wanted it to be seventh period. These are the at-risk kids so by putting this at the end of the day, it’s sort of like making a carrot out of it. It’s worked for a couple of kids. For a few kids it makes them stay whereas they wouldn’t have stayed for a whole day before.”
Belt has offered the students their pick of bicycles to rehab and at graduation, the students who have gone through the program get to keep their bike.
So far, the best example of this type of incentive is Jerry Gowen, 18, a senior who went from missing three days a week to having perfect attendance. Belt and Gowen struck a deal that if he graduates, he will get a BMX bike, one of the most coveted bikes in the shop right now.
“I have a license but no car, a bike is my second option [for transportation]. We came up with a deal – if I graduate I get a bike,” Gowen said.
Students see the benefits of being part of the class: the hands-on learning.
“I didn’t want to sit inside the building and I’ve worked on bikes before at friends’ houses. It’s fun to get your hands dirty,” said Devin Traweek, 18.
Most of the students have prior experience working with bicycles. Morgan Mulkern, 16, works at a bike repair shop.
“I learn better hands on. Bikes have always been a big part of my life, it’s job training for me,” Mulkern said.
Besides learning a practical skill and having a built-in incentive for finishing high school, the students are also getting a second chance at a fresh start.
“These kids, some of them have records, they’ve been in trouble, but I took them to the [Great Maine] Bike Swap event the other week and I let these kids disappear for two hours. They were working. I got huge kudos afterward. It’s great to see when they’re asked to rise to an occasion they can,” Belt said.
Belt first started teaching at Westbrook High School in 2007. At the time, the high school principal at the time, Jon Ross, was the director of alternative learning and was working on building a small bike-repair program.
“He got bikes from the police department and fix them up minimally. The students would work on them, sell them in community or at an open house. It was very low key, the work done was not very extensive,” Belt said.
But Belt had bike-repair experience and an interest. After adding a few more tools – Pedro’s, a bike tool and lubrication shop, helped get the program started by giving the school a discount on many of the tools, and Calpine Energy in Westbrook also gave money to make the shop function – Belt used his connections with Gorham Bike and Ski in Portland to get more donated bikes and parts. Those help teach students the ins and outs of bike maintenance and repair by having them take apart bikes completely and work on different parts like straightening bike tires, adding chains and replacing old pedals.
Among the sources of bicycle donations now, said Belt, are Gorham Bike and Ski, L.L. Bean, after its annual bike sale, and the Portland bike swap.
“Once you tell people you’re accepting donated bikes, they just start pouring in,” said Belt, who now has more than 100 for students to work on, housed in the portable classroom, behind the classroom in a bike trailer and at the Westbrook Community Center.
The students often donate the fixed bikes back into the community; on occasion, the bikes are sold to pay for new tools and parts.
“When it started, the work done in here was not very extensive. It just was giving kids another outlet. We ran the program out of the class for three or four years and we just started doing more. I have eight kids on the roster now. Next year it’s going to grow,” said Belt.
Next year, Belt hopes to run a pilot project that combines math and science elements with the hands-on bike-building program already in place to give the students elective and science credits toward their graduation requirements.
“If we are able to do the pilot program and give kids credit for it, we’ll be one of only two schools in the country doing it. The other one is in California,” Belt said.
In the meantime, Belt is looking at other outlets to give his alternative education students a way to expand their horizons. He wants to take them to the elementary schools to teach the younger students bicycle safety. He also wants his students come along with him when he donates bikes to community members and children in need, to help them get a wider view of the population in their own neighborhood and see what a difference they are making, despite their own troubled backgrounds.
The students have also created and cleared a bike path between the high school and Canal Elementary School to test out the bikes and utilize previously unused green space.
“It took about two days. It loops around a few times,” said Mulkern as she showed off the winding path through a small cluster of trees, explaining it’s not hard to ride on a trail “once you know what you’re doing.”
Gowen had some advice for the novice bike rider: “Always make sure chain is on and your breaks are working.”
And if they’re not, bring the bike by the shop so Gowen or one of the other students can take a look.