Why I Ride: A Conversation with Kenathius Finch
by Lisa Montanaro of The Bike Campaign
January 23, 2023
Growing up in an African American community in Alabama, Kenathius Finch thought of the bicycle as something one was forced to ride because they were poor and couldn’t afford a car. That stigma stayed with him for years despite relocating to Fairfield, California when he was thirteen years old. He biked to high school, but always felt inferior, partly due to the narrative that bike riding was a last resort, and partly because the bikes he rode were not of the best quality. Once he was old enough to drive a car, he ditched the humble bike to become what he thought of at the time as “cool.”
Fast forward many years later to when Kenathius graduated from Sacramento State University and moved to Davis, a bike-friendly community, where he found himself making his way back to the bicycle out of necessity. He and his wife had one car, and he often used his bike to commute to work, do errands, and trail their two kids by bike to and from many places around town. The bikes still weren’t the best quality and were often hand-me-downs, but they worked. However, that old narrative that people who rode bikes did so because they were poor, or had no other choice, stuck with him. “When I saw people on bikes, especially lower quality ones, I made judgments about them, and assigned that brand to myself,” he now admits. “I had to shift that mindset to see bike riding as cool and something you choose.”
His attitude towards biking changed dramatically in recent years once he started going to Ken’s Bike-Ski-Board Shop in Davis. He learned a lot from Ken about getting properly fitted for a bike and matching the bike’s style to his needs. But stereotypes persisted as Kenathius found himself feeling uncomfortable being a “big guy” on a bicycle. “In my mind, big people didn’t ride bikes. So, I had to then get over that hurdle next.”
A few years ago, Kenathius experienced some health issues, and decided to get more serious about his health. “I thought I was having a heart attack. It was a wakeup call, and I realized I needed to watch what I ate and add more exercise into my life.” He credits his wife, a licensed therapist, with being a huge part of this decision, as he watched her go through heart surgery at the age of twenty-five, and then learn better ways to treat her body. “She was the spark and fire for better, healthy choices in our home.” He started bike riding daily to his job as a paraeducator for the special education department of Willet Elementary School. Bike riding helped him improve his health immensely. He lost considerable weight and lowered his cholesterol. It also came with some wonderful other benefits, including treading more lightly on the environment, saving money, and decreasing wear and tear on the family car. “Fixing a bike is much less expensive than fixing a car!”
His kids are now nine and eleven years old, and he loves to teach them biking skills. He had to learn those skills as an adult and wants to pass them onto his kids early on in their lives. He cycles at least a hundred times a year to work, clocking thousands of miles. The only time he refrains from biking is when it’s unsafe to ride due to high wind or heavy rain. Willet Elementary has a scan-in program which logs miles by bike for kids, so parents know they made it school safely. The school promotes a friendly competition with Birch Lane Elementary and Kenathius’ high mileage has helped contribute to Willet’s winning the competition. As the only African American staff member at Willet, he believes when students see him on a bike, it helps to decrease the harmful stereotypes he grew up with around bike riding. As a certified life coach who has spent his career working with young people, he thinks its important to engage the students’ natural curiosity about the Black experience and answers their questions.
When Kenathius decided to bike more to improve his health, he hoped it would bring positive benefits on a personal level. What he didn’t expect were the ripple effects of how it would inspire others, positioning him as a role model to his students, children, and the community. “Cycling has made me a better person, father, educator, coach, and community member. I now see myself as a leader.”
Looking back now to when he first sat on a bike in Alabama as a kid, he had no idea the extraordinary role the bicycle would play in his life and how it would help him to serve and inspire others. Now at forty-seven years old, he credits bike riding for much of the magic in his life and has a message for others. “No matter where you are in life, you can learn to do different things to better your health and community. Just do it!”
This article was written by Lisa Montanaro, commissioned by The Bike Campaign. For more information about how to “Drive Less. Ride More.”, contact Maria Contreras Tebbutt at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.TheBikeCampaign.com.
Lisa Montanaro is the author of the book The Ultimate Life Organizer and is a freelance writer for print and online publications. She is currently revising her first novel. When not writing, Lisa helps organizations and people be more productive. And when not working or writing, Lisa can be found on two wheels cycling!