Do you remember learning to ride a bike? Most of us do. It’s a remarkable accomplishment in our early lives, a staple of childhood. The moment those training wheels came off and crashed to the floor in slow motion, we had our first taste of freedom, and boy was it sweet! My first bike was a fiery red Mongoose, complete with decals and pegs, which were seldom used for tricks but more for transporting my lazy, bike-less friends. That bike was so much more than just tires and pedals welded to a metal frame; it represented my childhood and all the great memories associated with it. Unfortunately, not everybody gets that exact childhood experience, but Milwaukee Public School system is trying to make up for that.
In September of 2015, The Milwaukee Public School system began an initiative to help children from different backgrounds learn to ride bikes. The program, led by Bill Koch Jr., was designed to train children in mountain biking so they could compete in the national mountain bike series held by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, or NICA. The competition welcomes biking teams from different states to compete in a number of races around Wisconsin, the objective being to teach kids the fundamentals of bike riding but also the importance of community. Bill reached out to portraiture photographer and avid cyclist Darren Hauck, who couldn’t agree to this ideal assignment fast enough.
I am pretty sure I said yes before he even finished his pitch.
Darren documented the children’s journeys from inexperienced novices to competent riders, serving as both a photographer and a coach. Darren races competitively in a sport called cyclocross, a sport exclusively reserved for adrenaline junkies in killer shape. (It involves riding down sand moguls at high speeds and then carrying the thirty-pound bikes up hills.) In short, he was able to step in with quick tips for the kids, offering them guidance as he photographed them. He dubbed this photo project “Bonded by Bikes.”
Bonded by Bikes has been such a natural fit for me as it combines my two passions, story-telling and cycling.
Darren followed the kids as they raced up and down mountains, through dirt trails and concrete paths, quickly discovering the correlation between effort and speed. With the help of talented coaches, proper equipment, and most importantly, an eagerness to learn, they began to form their own memories. With the kids being so at ease, Darren was able to capture their raw emotions and not worry about anyone freezing up for the camera.
They were so excited to be riding bikes and training and hanging out that they forgot about me taking pictures right away. That kind of freedom is a dream and it can take a lot of time to gain that kind of comfort and trust in other situations.
NICA stood for more than just teaching young adults to ride bikes. Like most organized sports, it taught them to be self-confident, focused and inclusive. Darren says that the only big challenge he faced was creating images as powerful as the experience the kids were having.
This experience showed just how easy it is to change a child’s life with a bit of time and effort.
At the end of the project, Darren, with funding from Bill Koch Jr., gave each child a framed picture of him or herself. He says that seeing these kids—all of whom had never been on a bike before—see an image of themselves competing was a moment he’s not soon to forget.
To see more of Darren’s work, check out dhauckphoto.com!