Each day, James Dent and Tracy Fountain planned ahead for weather conditions. In the summer, they each brought a change of clothes for their trips; they switched to making sure they had plenty of layers once the thermometer dipped.
Temperatures of five below zero didn’t stop them.
Hot and humid days, rain showers and wind couldn’t stymie their progress either.
Since the beginning of the school year, Palmyra High School science teacher James Dent and English and Language Arts teacher Tracy Fountain have biked every day to school — Dent travels about one mile, and Fountain pedals about one-half mile. What started as a good-natured bet to see who could carry on the longest became a yearlong adventure to encourage more people to ride their bikes, as well as show students how learning can be fun. With the help camera work from Fountain’s husband, Chris, they have created music videos and scripted shows to go along with their daily trek that they both hope will help instill a renewed interest in biking for students and neighbors.
“We’re hoping to start something here,” Fountain said.
She remembered the beginnings of “Teachers on Bikes,” when she told Dent she bet that she could ride every day to school, and he took her up on her bet.
“It started out as a competition... who would crack first,” she said with a laugh.
Dent said whoever didn’t ride to school first would lose, and they were prepared to dish out consequences to whoever lost.
Each day, they planned ahead for weather conditions. In the summer, they each brought a change of clothes for their trips; they switched to making sure they had plenty of layers once the thermometer dipped.
“In the cold, we have discovered interesting shortcuts,” Fountain said.
Dent said he often debated over going faster and dealing with the wind chill, or traveling slower and remaining in the cold for a longer period.
“Rain worried me more than cold, to be honest,” Dent said.
“And I’d rather have wind than rain, because of my hair,” Fountain replied, laughing.
Both teachers want to spread the fun they’ve had biking — Fountain waves to the same people each morning on the way to school, and Dent sees and hears what’s going on in each neighborhood that he would miss if he were driving a car.
Their competition became a light-hearted mission that Dent gave the tongue-in-cheek motto of “Make Earth green again.”
“We’re just trying to make biking cool,” Fountain said.
Their “Teachers on Bikes” videos have opened up dialogues that she said reinforced that learning is fun. She and Dent found inventive ways to mount their phones to their bikes, and Dent even attached a selfie stick to show the spinning wheels along the way.
So far a student has followed their lead, and Fountain said she would love to see a large group of students arrive on bikes during National Bike to School Day. Their initial instrumental video preceded more elaborate productions — they made music videos, a Christmas feature and Dent pedaled around as Freddy Kruger for their Halloween special.
With Chris Fountain manning the camera, they pedaled, lip-synced and joined neighbors light-hearted videos for favorites like “Uptown Funk” and “Pushbike Song.”
They even play six different original characters for their “Brunch Club” comedy video set at the high school — including “a brain,” “ an innovator” and a “has-been who never was.” As a bicyclist passes by the hall, Dent narrates “before this day is over, they’ll break some rules.”
So far, students have shared their original creations on Twitter and YouTube, with help from Fountain’s daughter, Sydney, a senior at Palmyra High School, and Dent’s daughter, Chloe, a junior. For the next school year, the Teachers on Bikes plan to continue cycling as often as possible to school, spreading the word about how biking can get you to and from school while exercising, conserving fossil fuels and interacting with nature and fellow community members.
Fountain said that each bike ride gives her the chance to unwind surrounded by nature.
“It’s nice out. I like that time to clear my mind when I come to school,” she said.
The challenge is still technically on, but Dent said that’s not what matters at this point.
“I really don’t want a winner,” he said. “I really like the idea that we’re going to complete the entire year.”
To check out the “Teachers on Bikes” videos and see what Dent and Fountain are up to during their two-wheeled adventures, look for “Teachers on Bikes” or Tracy Fountain on YouTube or #TeachersonBikes on Twitter.
Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org