Pedalo Sicuro Teaches Lessons for the Trail, and Life

Mountain bike students learn how to navigate rough spots in both worlds.

URBINO, Italy – As he watches the line of young boys maneuver their mountain bikes down a rocky slope, Michele Piersantini shouts pointers on how to handle a downhill, how to take a sharp turn, how to brake. It’s the kind of lesson a student would expect at a mountain biking school.

Mountain biking leads them to an awareness of their strength, to overcome their fears, and to be more sure of themselves in life

But Piersantini is hoping the boys are learning some larger lessons as well.

“Mountain biking leads them to an awareness of their strength, to overcome their fears, and to be more sure of themselves in life,” says Piersantini. “It’s a moral significance.”

“If you can overcome a bad hill, you can overcome difficulties in your life.”

Samuele Fanelli helps a young student with his helmet strap in preparation for the lesson.

Piersantini is an instructor at Pedalo Sicuro (“Cycling in Safety”), a mountain biking school for youngsters he and five cycling friends opened inside the walls of this famous Renaissance city in 2007. While as many as 40 students between the ages of 9 and 13 are excited simply about the biking skills they can learn and the rides they take, Piersantini and his partners say the main goal for the program is to use cycling as a vehicle for teaching the boys valuable life lessons.

Samuele Fanelli, a program co-founder and the lead instructor of the 9-to-11 year-old group, says mountain biking allows the boys to push their limits – and by doing so, they gain a sense of self-confidence that they carry with them as they get older.

Acceptance of that mission by Urbino families can be seen in the school’s steady enrollment growth. Parents like Miria Geci, mother of 9-year-old Michele, come to watch their children ride and sometimes tumble along the courses, understanding the school’s dual missions. While she knows instructors like Piersantini may be experts at mountain biking – he’s president of the regional branch of AmiBike, the national mountain biking association in Italy – she is just as happy about the other skills her child is learning. She said she has already seen her son’s self-confidence grow, among other benefits.

“Because he is an only child, the program is helping him to be more sociable, make friends, and to respect himself and others,” says Geci.

The action here could be a mirror image of similar programs in the U.S. – if not for the landscape. In the United States the iconic images of mountain biking most often feature Western states where cyclists test their skills battling the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Here in Urbino, the backdrop is more about history than nature. The rocky paths bikers traverse lie in the shadows of 600-year-old architecture and across a countryside of rolling hills where royalty and Renaissance artists like Raffaello once walked.

But the shouts of joy and terror are the same that echo at U.S. schools.

As Michele Geci attempts to maneuver his bike around a rock, he turns too sharply and has to catch himself with his foot. He looks up at his mother, Miria, who smiles at him, then glances over at this friends. He laughs along with them, jumps back on his bike, and prepares for a race down the path.

Young Michele says his favorite part of mountain biking is going fast down hills, but he also likes mountain biking because of the friends he’s made and the fun he has in the lessons. “Everything about mountain biking is fun,” he says.

A group of younger students follow Fanelli down via del Popolo.

The founders of the school say their fun comes from watching their students grow in life skills. The program costs €80 for a six-week block of 12 lessons, but the money is returned directly to the program to pay for resources like renting equipment for some less fortunate students and class room space. Piersantini and Fanelli work other daytime jobs and instruct Pedalo Sicuro in their free time. In lieu of a salary, Piersantini says the program brings him, “everything. I see these boys who get more experienced, learn these things, and it makes me feel good.”

Fanelli, an avid cyclist, believes the program is a good start to promoting mountain biking in the region, and he and Piersantini hope to continue to teacher life lessons to dozens more children.

Some of that learning seems to be taking effect this day. A student pushes his bike up to Fanelli and shows him that something is wrong with his front wheel. Fanelli bends down, examines the spokes, and flips the bike over so the wheels are pointed at the sky. Before he does anything, Fanelli points to where a chain has popped loose from a chain wheel and explains to the boy what the problem is and how to fix it.

Together, instructor and student remove the wheel, maneuver the chain into its proper place, and replace the wheel. Fanelli motions for the boy to give it a whirl, and smiling broadly, he jerks the wheel so it spins, clicking and whirring until it slowly comes to rest again.

The youngster remounts the bike, takes off, and shouts “Grazie!” to Fanelli over his shoulder.

Lesson learned.

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About Hamlet Fort

I came to Urbino because I love Europe, I love writing, I love photography, and I love the challenge of working in a foreign place with such intelligent and motivated faculty and students. The experience was everything I could have hoped for and more.