By Jim McElhatton
Long before T.C. Williams senior Alex Wolz was born, his father bought a yellow Schwinn 10-speed bike with the money he’d saved from his childhood job as a paperboy in Wisconsin.
But his father quickly outgrew the bike, and so it sat untouched for nearly 40 years until Wolz walked into his grandfather’s garage, noticed it and said, “That’s a sweet frame.”
He took the bike home, stripped off the gears, derailleurs and other parts he didn’t like and, after a lot of work, gave the discarded Schwinn a new life as a steel-framed, single-speed bike that can be spotted cruising up and down the area’s many bike trails.
Wolz keeps the cycle around as a spare to lend to friends and fellow riders in a bike club that he helped to start at T.C. a few years ago. While the club has organized bike-to-school events, encouraged students to commute and helped out with charitable causes, mostly it’s just about getting together and riding.
“It’s a good way to spend time with friends,” Wolz said during a recent club ride. “You have the great American road trip, of course, but with a bike you can stop and see cool stuff and you’re just more in touch with everything. Especially here — we’re so close to D.C. and there’s so much culture. There’s just no better way to see it than on a bike.”
Indeed, the T.C. club has toured the Washington monuments and organizes rides to see the cherry blossoms each spring. Last year, it wasn’t uncommon to hear several different languages spoken as exchange students — from countries such as Moldova, Lebanon, Spain and Chile — joined on rides along the Mount Vernon Trail.
Still, some trips are more popular than others. On a cold and drizzly recent Sunday, the area bike trails were mostly empty. Undeterred, seven T.C. cyclists met by the parking garage at the school for a weekend ride.
Five were seniors: Wolz, Mohammad Yaziji, Wahbi Kabir, Matthew Sinkin, and Dean Martin. They were joined by junior Ricky Fonseca and sophomore Yahya Yaziji. And the group rode off from the parking lot around noon, weaving through the streets of Alexandria and Arlington toward Four Mile Run Trail, which carried them onto the Washington and Old Dominion Trail.
After a few miles, they stopped at the old Southern Railway caboose off a stretch of the trail in Arlington. They sat around a park table, searched their pockets and backpacks for snacks, and talked about biking.
When he was little, Sinkin said, he broke his arm, and for years, he never wanted to learn how to ride a bike. But when he was in ninth grade, with extra time after school, he decided to learn. Now, he’s hooked.
Riding the bike that had once belonged to Wolz’s then-paperboy dad in Wisconsin, Fonseca said he first heard Wolz talking about the bike club in the lunchroom. He said he thought about joining but didn’t decide until a few months later. He said he was just looking for something to do after school.
“It’s been a lot fun,” Fonseca said. “Lots of fun.”
For Martin, who helped Wolz organize the group, biking has been a part of his family’s routine since as far back as he can remember. He’s an experienced cyclist, but one of his favorite outings is on Memorial Day, when his family rides from Alexandria to National Harbor for lunch.
Sitting on the bench, they swapped other biking stories. They also talked about the plans Martin, Sinkin, Wolz and Kabir have for spring break. They’ll be riding about 40 to 50 miles a day, camping out along the way as they head toward the Roppahannock River.
Soon, a light rain began to fall. They got on their bikes and pedaled back toward school. But along the way, one of the riders spotted a hawk in a tree overhead. They pulled off the trail for a closer look.
“Did you see that?” one of them asked excitedly.
Only on a bike.