CHICAGO — Bike riding has always been Waymond Smith's means of escape.
As a 12-year-old, while the Chatham native's friends were being recruited into gangs, Smith had assembled a bicycle out of a frame he found in an alley and some wheels donated to him by pals.
"Guys I knew were going to the gangs, but I wasn't there because I was always riding my bike," said Smith, who would peddle all over the South Side and to other parts of Chicago as a teenager.
Smith is now 63 years old. For decades, he's been a bike advocate, teaching youngsters how to ride and assemble their own bikes at Better Boys Foundation in North Lawndale and Working Bikes in Pilsen.
And a few days after his 64th birthday, on Aug. 19, the South Shore resident will embark on an 1,800-mile solo bike ride from Vancouver, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico to raise money for those organizations and others.
"I'm doing this route to support youth-based biking programs so you can have children get on a bike and explore their communities," said Smith, a Lindblom graduate. "You have this sense of freedom on a bike. Maybe this will help motivate them to get out and explore."
"Waymond Smith is pretty amazing so I'm not surprised he is riding from Canada to Mexico to raise money for youth programs in Chicago," she said.
Smith hasn't used a car in 15 years. He said part of riding a bike is helping to change a perception in black neighborhoods implying that "having a bike is because you don't own a car."
"I've been asked many times by the students I help whether my driver's license has been revoked or why I can't afford a car or how many DUIs have I gotten," Smith said.
Smith will travel the ocean-hugging Pacific Coast Highway while in the United States. He plans to take two months to finish his journey.
Smith, who's retired after 25 years working in commercial printing, rides about 200 miles a week all over Chicago. He's completed the 335-mile RAGBRAI bike ride across Iowa seven times, but the Pacific Coast trip will be by far his longest.
"I don't want to try and rush it," Smith said.
For more information on Smith's fundraiser, click here.
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