Gael Boucka of Allentown, PA, discovers the capabilities of his bike in Train Your Bike, CyclingSavvy's parking lot skills session.

Miracle In Bethlehem

Within a few short hours, a man who hasn’t been on a bicycle since he was a child rides with ease on one of America’s ridiculously auto-centric bridges.

How is this possible?

It happens because of how events unfold in a CyclingSavvy workshop. Once we bust myths1 and bring our participants’ bike handling skills up to speed,2 they can ride anywhere.

At least that’s the theory.

There were times we had our doubts whether this would work with Gael Boucka of Allentown, PA. It’s fair to say that his wife, Jennifer Swann, pretty much dragged him earlier this month to eastern Pennsylvania’s inaugural CyclingSavvy workshop.

Jennifer is an avid cyclist who serves on the board of Lehigh Valley’s Coalition for Appropriate Transportation. Gael agreed to attend Friday evening’s classroom session, where no bikes were needed. But would he come back Saturday for the on-bike sessions? He’d wait and see. He hadn’t ridden a bicycle in 44 years! After all that time, he wasn’t sure he could even balance on two wheels.

Instructor John Schubert and I were delighted when Gael came back Saturday morning.

Then we saw that he wasn’t kidding.

Gael could barely keep his bike upright. He’d need one-on-one help. Meanwhile we had 11 other students and a schedule to keep.

We were incredibly fortunate to have expert cyclists with us that day. Gary Madine, a League Cycling Instructor, worked tirelessly with Gael, while Scott Slingerland, executive director of the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation, quickly dispatched mechanical issues. Justin McMurtry, a CyclingSavvy instructor candidate from Houston, was on hand to observe and help wherever he could.

Gael Boucka of Allentown, PA, discovers the capabilities of his bike in Train Your Bike, CyclingSavvy's parking lot skills session.

Gael Boucka practices “yoga bike.” We do this exercise during the parking lot skills session before we practice high-speed cornering. The point is to show how well the tires grip the pavement, even when the bike is at an impressive angle. Your bike is capable of a lot if you let it do it!

We were also incredibly fortunate to have Gael. What a trooper! He never gave up, and he’s a fast learner.

Gael is a PhD candidate in comparative and international education at Lehigh University. He’s a teacher by profession. Like the best teachers, he’s a learner at heart. While I worked mainly with our other participants, every time I looked at Gael working with Gary or John across the parking lot, I could clearly see his progress.

Still, toward the end of the session John pulled me aside. “Do you think Gael’ll be able to join us on the Tour of Bethlehem?” he asked.

This was a big question. Safety is first on a CyclingSavvy road tour. We take people on the road only if we’re reasonably certain they’ll be able to ride safely and follow instructions.

“He’ll be fine,” I responded. “Just make sure he’s right up front with you and glued to your side.”

Gael was delighted when he heard he’d be in the catbird seat. After lunch, we were on our way.

A CyclingSavvy Tour is unlike any other experience. We intentionally send our participants through challenging road configurations. We do this to eliminate barriers to bicycling.

We want to give you the knowledge and tools to feel as comfortable using your bicycle as you are using your car.

Cyclists waiting at a light on West Lehigh Street to turn onto the Fahy Bridge in Bethlehem, PA.

Success! They are comfortable. L-R: Joyce Dawley, Dave Sellers, Gary Madine and Anne Felker

How a savvy cyclist uses the Hill-to-Hill Bridge in Bethlehem, PA.

Excellent communication and a mile-wide smile from Jennifer Swann as she crosses the Hill-to-Hill Bridge in Bethlehem, PA (photo by Justin McMurtry)

More Kodak moments from Bethlehem here.

And Gael? After what he accomplished in his CyclingSavvy workshop, he can ride anywhere with Jennifer. He is indeed a savvy cyclist.

Riding on West Lehigh Street in Bethlehem, PA.

John Schubert (foreground), Gael Boucka and Kurt Gale about to turn onto the Fahy Bridge in Bethlehem, PA

Riding bicycles on the Hill-to-Hill Bridge in Bethlehem, PA.

If you’re going to ride in Lehigh Valley, you’re probably going to cross lots of bridges. Now John, Gary and Gael are on the Hill-to-Hill Bridge, turning right to head to historic downtown Bethlehem

Gael Boucka riding his bicycle in Bethlehem, PA.

Gael rides big as he rounds the corner

Riding across the Hill-to-Hill Bridge into downtown Bethlehem, PA.

The guys get plenty of passing clearance as they make their way to downtown Bethlehem

Introducing eastern Pennsylvania's newest savvy cyclists.

Group photo taken after riding on Bethlehem’s Hill-to-Hill Bridge. If you can ride there, you can ride anywhere! L-R: Instructor Karen Karabell, surprise visitor and CyclingSavvy founder Keri Caffrey (Ginger & Cinnamon on leashes), Instructor John Schubert, Lorraine Felker, Joyce Dawley, Don Kelly, Julie Gallagher, Jane Berger, Dave Sellers, Jennifer Swann and Kurt Gale. Kneeling: Anne Felker, Justin McMurtry, Gary Madine, Gael Boucka and Scott Slingerland

Savvy cyclists at Fegley's Bethlehem Brew Works.

Gael, Jennifer and Scott celebrate after the tour

Safe Joy Riding

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  1. That roads are for cars. That bicycling is dangerous. That you need to be “strong & fearless” to take your rightful place on our public roadways.
  2. This happens in CyclingSavvy’s fast-paced parking lot session, Train Your Bike.
1 reply
  1. Sarah Andrew
    Sarah Andrew says:

    I have so many friends and loved ones featured in this article, I am sorry to have missed it but so glad everyone had such a great experience! Reading this makes me want to burst from my office on two wheels and go back in time to join this ride – luckily for me, we can do it again in the future!

    Reply

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