Last year, the League celebrated Bike Month with our daily Why I Ride web series. This year, in our “Where the Ride Takes Us” series, we’ll be spotlighting how bicycles aremore than means of recreation and transportation, but tools for personal empowerment, social justice and community development. Today’s post comes from Mathew Portell, the founder of Ride for Reading, in Nashville, Tenn.

During my first year of teaching, I asked my students to read for 15 minutes at home each night. One student replied that he didn’t have any books at home to read. It didn’t take me long to realize that student’s problem wasn’t unique. According to the Handbook of Early Literacy Research, the ratio of books per child in low-income neighborhoods is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children.

I felt compelled to do something to help my students and others like them — so I combined my passion for cycling and reading. The result: Ride for Reading.


Our mission is to promote literacy and healthy living by donating books via bicycle to children from low-income areas. Since our start in February 2008, RfR has donated more than 110,000 books, delivering them by bicycle to kids at Title I schools.

Every month in Nashville, as many as 40 cyclists gather and ride to the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods with books in tow.  The riders arrive to smiles, homemade welcome signs, and cheering children. Once they come to a stop, a RfR representative speaks to the children about the importance of a healthy life and literacy — and describe the various types of bikes ridden by the volunteers (mountain, road, commuter, tandem, etc.).


Then the children raise their right hand and pledge: I promise to read my book twice. I will never ever throw my book away. I will pass it on to a friend, family member, neighbor, classmate or someone else I know. And I promise to be the best student for the rest of the year

In 2011, we brought our mission to Interbike — and, with the help of several industry companies, government agencies, and other organizations, more than 100 volunteers showed up to help transport more than 2,500 books to the students of Peterson Elementary School in Las Vegas. The first year was such a success that RfR completed a second Interbike delivery in 2012 and is planning its third delivery during Interbike 2013!


In order to help more children, we began a national push called Ride for Reading Week in May. During this week, RfR volunteers and partners across the nation host their own book delivery via bicycle.  In 2013, there are 20 cities, from Maryland to California, who will be spreading Ride for Reading’s mission to children who come from low-income areas.  The organization is ecstatic to be partnering with Colorado Women’s Cycling Project, Stan’s NoTubes, Pivot Cycles, RideKick, Primal Wear, Girl Bike Love / Cyclofemme, Global Bikes, Safe Routes Philly, Devon Balet Photography and many local bike shops across the country.  RfR is also honored to have an amazing partnership with Better World Books! which is donating thousands of books to partnering cities around the country.

In 2008, I met professional mountain biker Dejay Birtch. Since then, Dejay has supported RfR in a variety of ways, including raising funds for the organization through his 2011 Tour Divide finish. This partnership led to the launch of Team Ride for Reading in 2013! Dejay will be wearing Ride for Reading’s colors as he races nationally and internationally. The team will not only focus on winning races, but also informing the public of the need for books in the homes of children in low-income areas.


Ride for Reading believes that education is not only found within the four walls of a school building. Within the pages of a book you can go anywhere, see anything, and experience everything. Every child deserves that despite economic status. To donate or learn more about our organization please visit us at


My Signature

Carolyn Szczepanski
Communications Director

Carolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League’s blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women’s Bicycling Summit and launched the League’s newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.

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