Trevor Libby, right, maneuvers through cones Monday during a physical education class at Richmond High School. Mountain bikes were obtained through a grant physical education teacher Joe Viselli completed. Libby, a freshman, learned how to ride a bicycle last week while attending the class. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

RICHMOND — Trevor Libby just learned how to ride a bike four weeks ago.

And already, in his gym class at Richmond Middle and High School, he is able to dodge around cones and ride through the town of Richmond with no problem.

He learned how to ride with the help of his physical education teacher, Joe Viselli, who applied for a grant through the Outride Foundation to purchase 23 mountain bikes for the school’s PE curriculum.

Before gym class this trimester, Trevor, 14, had never ridden a bike, making up one of the five students that never had learned how ride a bike before this year.

“I never really needed to learn,” he said.

Libby said he was “terrified,” and “scared about what his friends would think,” but after a couple days, and one fall, he was able to dodge around the cones Viselli had constructed and able to play games against other students on the bikes.

“He taught me the basics and showed me how to keep balance when riding the bike,” Libby said of Viselli. “He told me to practice putting one foot on the pedal and I kind of learned. I had difficulties putting both of my feet on the bike.”

Richmond High School physical education teacher Joe Viselli teaches a mountain biking class Monday at the school. Mountain bikes were obtained through a grant. Several students have learned how to ride a bike for the first time. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Since the bike riding is during physical education class, Viselli gives students instruction before they are able to get on the bike and go on a physical ride for more than a couple miles. He said he has considered applying for a grant to receive scooters to make it more inclusive to students that are unable to ride a bike.

“The first three weeks are regimented around skill building, and today, we are doing turning and different activities that they have to get through,” Viselli said. “We will see how we graduate from that curriculum and we are hoping to do more rides off campus.”

At the time that Viselli was waiting to receive the bikes from the grant, the nation was experiencing a so-called “bike boom” that impacted the bike supply chain because most of the materials, and bikes, were coming from China where factories were forced to shut down in the spring because of the coronavirus.

But since the bikes were specific through the grant, the only part of obtaining them affected by the coronavirus was building the vehicle itself, Viselli said. Helmets and the curriculum were also included in the grant.

“The only thing it effected was the building of the bikes,” Viselli said. “These bikes were set aside before, and built specifically for this grant. They aren’t a bike that you can go out and get, it’s based on a model.”

Gorham Bike & Ski in Portland decided to build the 23 bikes in addition to the many others that they were trying to build to keep up with the “boom.” Viselli first went to Matthew’s Bike Shop in Farmingdale, but the shop was unable to take on the request.

Richmond High School students ride in a convoy Monday during physical education class through town. Mountain bikes were obtained through a grant physical education teacher Joe Viselli pursued. The freshmen were learning proper signaling and road pedaling as part of their class. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Richmond Middle and High School is taking a hybrid approach to learning this academic year and has adapted a schedule where students have four classes a day for 75 minutes, which has given Viselli ample time to take students on rides.

He said the bikes have been a good activity to do during the coronavirus because students are able to be outside and keep proper distance from each other.

Riding around town and Richmond Middle and High School are the first few rides in which students have taken part. Viselli wants to take students to Swan Island in Richmond, or on trails behind the Middle and High School as their bike skills progress.

He has his own experience with bike riding, having competed in triathlons in college and has done some of his own mountain biking. Viselli also likes to ride bikes with his two high school-aged children.

He said biking is an activity with a skill that can be done at any age, unlike other gym activities like kickball or other team sports.

“Learning how to ride a bike and getting into that habit is a lifelong skill, and you’ll have another option to stay active in your lifetime,” Viselli said.

Libby agreed with that, adding that he is “happy” to have learned the skill. He said he’s sad he won’t be able to bike next trimester when his gym classes are over.

“I won’t have gym anymore, but at least I have it now,” Libby said, noting he is looking forward to the larger bike trips that the class will take in the coming weeks.

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