Benton

Benton

An interview with the newest member of the team: Benton Henderson.

Cameron Zamot: Benton, what’s your origin story?

Benton Henderson: Sherman, if you set the wayback machine to 1989 when I was about 4 years old, my great-grandmother and grandmother lived in Lumberton, NC, across from a mortuary with a big parking lot where I’d ride my bike in circles all day with my little brother, as long as there wasn’t a funeral service. I rode throughout middle school, high school, and college but didn’t really start wrenching until high school when I realized it would cost me a lot less money to repair them myself.

CZ: What was the first bike you built?

BH: A pile of Peugeot. Reynolds 531 steel. Great bike, but I learned the hard way how to work on French bikes and what “proprietary” really means. I rode the hell out of that thing: Baltimore, Philly, all up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

CZ: Talk to us about your after-school bike club.

BH: When I started teaching 8th grade social studies, I realized some students needed other options besides band, football, and theater. They needed something else to engage with or they’d lose interest in school. There was one kid I had that was totally off the chain. He had a lot of behavior problems and not a lot of parenting in his life. I told him, “If you can stop cutting class and start turning in assignments, I’ll build you a custom bicycle to your specs. The more you do in class, earn good grades, you’ll earn additional parts.” We shook on it, and we built up an old Fuji Olympic, classic 1980s steel racing frame. He took that with him to high school, and the whole process got him in line way more than any other consequence or reward would have up to that point. I figured, “If this works with him, it might work with other kids,” so I worked with the Recyclery in Carrboro to obtain tools and the Durham Bike Coop to help me get started with getting some bikes. Ever since, I’ve been turning a wrench in my classroom on a weekly basis with my 7th and 8th graders for the past three years.

CZ: How many students are in the club now?

BH: Oh, at least a dozen kids in there every semester now. Word spread real quick. It went viral. Now I’m getting 6th graders trying to join, but it’s been tough finding frames that small. The cool thing is though they learn pretty quickly what responsibility is; “If I build this thing, I’ll have to take care of it. If I throw it down and break it, no one is going to fix it except for me.”

CZ: How did you find The Bike Library?

BH: Oh man, this was serendipitous. I was heading out into downtown Raleigh to find a cafe to do some grading after school. I was passing through Dorothea Dix by Western Blvd, and there was a big group of people riding the other direction. I thought, “Man, I didn’t know there was a ride today?” and then I saw a couple of people I knew on the ride, so I did a U-turn in the middle of Western Blvd, probably almost got run over, and followed y’all to the Hartwell Bottle Shop. I started talking with Lauren about the ride, the company, and the mission and why y’all were out there. It spiraled from there. Seems like a good match.

CZ: What are you most excited about this summer?

BH: It gives me the opportunity to take something I love doing and make a community impact, and it’s a lot more relaxing than looking at lesson plans all summer.

CZ: Talk to us about these history tours.

BH: After I led the tweed ride with Oaks and Spokes this past fall, I decided I wanted to try to do this on a regular basis. A lot of people don’t really know the history of the city they live in. Having grown up in North Carolina, I know a lot of the spots and the stories behind them. The history runs deep all the way back to the Late 16th century and that's just the European perspective; it's much further with the Native Tribes of course. Anyway, I love sharing it with anyone who is willing to learn. We all have history classes when we’re in middle and high school but many aren’t paying any attention at that age. When people are older, they typically value it more and can get involved and really appreciate it like, “Wow, this is how they built this?” Plus, what better way to do it than on a bike, enjoying the good weather, and having actual conversations about it all?

CZ: And you get a free beer.

BH: And you get a free beer!

CZ: Last question for the fans: what’s your favorite bowtie?

BH: Oh boy. When I first started teaching at East Cary, I was teaching 6th grade. One of my students got me a bowtie that was the same colors as NC State, which was where I was going to grad school at the time. It was a little red and gray bowtie with a matching pocket square. They told me, “Here you go Mr. Henderson, now you can upgrade your fit!” and I went, “Sweet!”

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