When asked if he’s always been an avid biker, Tavaghn Monts laughs. “My wife and I used to take leisurely rides on the BeltLine in Atlanta. I was never biking at the level of our Challenge Team rides,” he says. But the Clemson graduate and former football player did have a passion for the outdoors and wide-open spaces that prepared him for his current role as executive director of Momentum Bike Clubs.
Monts took the helm—or the handlebars— June 1st, 2022, following the retirement of David Taylor, who launched the program in 2010 with just 10 students in the Sterling community. Today it serves 265 students in 21 Upstate clubs, promoting youth development and leadership skills for under-resourced students, using the platform of cycling to foster and sustain positive mentoring relationships.
“It’s all about youth development and mentoring relationships to support and empower them to become leaders in their communities,” Monts says.
Momentum Bike Clubs welcome students ages 11-18 regardless of race, background, or gender identity. After school clubs give middle and high school students the opportunity to ride with teachers and other adult mentors, using provided bikes, Monts says.
“We really appreciate our teachers,” he says. “For some students who are having problems in class, the relationship that develops on the bike lets them see the teacher as a person, and gives teachers the opportunity to learn from their students. For example, that student may be playing the role of adult in their household, and school is where they come to rest. The students open up and give you more details so you can be there for them and show them they don’t have to be the victim of their circumstances. It’s a very fruitful opportunity for long-term relationships from middle school through high school and college.”
As their skills develop, they can join the Challenge Team, which offers adventure-based outings on weekends, like a recent three-night trip to the New River Trail in Virginia. “They traveled to the next campsite carrying their own gear. Every day was a new lake or a new view of the mountains,” Monts says. “We recently purchased a 15-passenger bus which allows us to be creative and expose students to more amazing outdoor adventures.”
Excursions closer to home include overnight stays in Conestee Nature Preserve and the Preserve at River West. Monthly Circles allow Challenge Team members to share a meal and have honest conversation.
“We do our best to meet every student where they are, whether they are just learning to ride a bike or can ride a hundred miles,” Monts says.
Momentum is a self-funded, external program of Clemson’s Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management Department. Graduate assistants are partnering with the program to create a comprehensive data capturing system to evaluate its effectiveness.
“Nonprofits have amazing stories, but it’s gratifying to have the numbers to coincide with our stories to show the mission is working,” Monts says.
Monts says the excitement he sees on the faces of children following experiences on and off the bike indicates that the group is getting some things right, building trust and a sense of safety that allows them to engage with emotions they’ve rarely experienced before.
“Another reaction we see is a feeling of achievement. We support our students as they find confidence and build resilience to overcome obstacles and fears. We create spaces for all students to be valued and encourage them to bring their whole selves to the experiences we offer,” Monts says. “Lastly, we see the reaction of feeling supported. By demonstrating what it means to care and be cared for, we recognize the community building power of respect and encouragement. We foster a family-like environment that allows for affection, love and connectedness.”
In 2021, the Community Foundation of Greenville provided an unrestricted grant of $12,500 to Momentum Bike Clubs as part of its commitment to support minority-led nonprofits.
To learn more, visit momentumbikeclubs.org