Bicyclists fan out from Mattapan’s Walker Playground in Saturday rides

Participants in last year’s Mattapan bike event cycled along the Neponset Greenway near Central Avenue in Milton. Photo courtesy Mattapan Food and Fitness

Spend a day biking around town this Saturday (July 21) as Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition Vigorous Youth hosts its eighth annual bike-a-thon. With check-in opening at 8 a.m. at Walker Playground in Norfolk Park (528 Norfolk St.), the event offers rides toward Hyde Park, Milton, and Quincy, with the first one setting off at 9 a.m.

The bike-a-thon is free and open to those aged 8 and older (those 12 and under must be with an adult). There are three routes open to different skill levels: a Family Ride of 8 miles stopping at the Martini Shell in Hyde Park; an Intermediate Ride (15 miles) through the Neponset Valley Parkway until Houghton’s Pond; and an Expert Ride (25 miles) going as far as Wollaston Beach.

All rides end at the starting point in Walker Playground, and each trail offers rest stops with bathrooms and food for purchase. Water and granola bars will be provided by the program, although supplies are limited and organizers encourage you to bring your own in addition to sunscreen and bike-friendly clothes. Upon return, riders will be greeted with free food from a salad bar courtesy of the Food and Fitness Coalition and a barbecue from the nearby “Hoops and Scoops” basketball tournament.

The Bike-a-thon got its beginnings back in 2011, when Shavel’le Olivier, then 18, and a co-worker, 17, saw that there were residents in Mattapan who wanted to bike but lacked the means to do so.

“At the time we were doing the event, [former Boston Mayor Tom] Menino was trying to make the city more bike-friendly, and we didn’t want Mattapan to be left out,” said Olivier. “Mattapan has one of the highest rates of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, and cycling could be a way for these sorts of residents to get physical activity.”

Since then, the event has expanded its focus to advocate for safe cycling and health and transit equity while making Mattapan a more bike-friendly neighborhood. Police city bikers will escort ride leaders and participants throughout the ride, and helmets are mandatory. Those who don’t have helmets or bikes will be able to borrow them in exchange for a form of collateral (such as photo ID; those under 18 must also have a parent or guardian sign a waiver), and there will be a bike safety demonstration before the ride.

The rides will be led by the youth of the coalition’s Vigorous Youth program, ranging from 14 to 18 years old. “That’s what makes us unique,” said Olivier. “It’s so important to have the Vigorous Youth lead these rides because they’re leading a range [of skill-levels], from those who cycle recreationally to those who are extreme cyclists, and it shows them that they can be leaders and that they can teach those who have more experience than them.”

While the whole event is free, donations are welcome. This year, the coalition is hoping to raise $8,000 for their youth to attend the Youth Bike Summit, held in various cities across the country, and a bike workshop in Mattapan. Donations can be made while registering online, by mailing a check, or in cash at the event. More information is available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mattapan-on-wheels-8th-annual-bike-a-thon-t....