LCI Spotlight: Isabella Bustamante
The League certifies hundreds of League Cycling Instructors every year and there are thousands of LCIs across the country leading bike education efforts in their communities. In our LCI spotlight series, we share the stories of League Cycling Instructors doing what they do daily: educating, mentoring, empowering. You don’t have to be an extraordinary athlete or overachieving student to be a stellar LCI, all you need is the conviction that life is better for everyone when more people ride bikes.
This month, we’re sharing a conversation with Isabella Bustamante, an LCI who works with Bike Easy as a Youth Programs Coordinator to make bicycling accessible, safe, and fun for everyone in Greater New Orleans. She also spends half of her time in New York City, where she continues her youth education and advocacy work with young artists through Teen Art Salon.
Isabella was nominated for her outstanding efforts to help start and lead multiple after school ride clubs for students across New Orleans.
Know an inspiring LCI we should feature next? Nominate a stellar bike educator here!
Tell us a little about yourself and why you enjoy teaching bike education.
My dad taught me to ride in the street, and that allowed me to be a commuter at a really young age. That’s part of why I wanted to get involved with bike education – to be able to give young people the chance to escape, to feel free and excited about going on an adventure.
What first motivated you to become an LCI?
I was part of a Listserv in NYC for a coalition of radical educators. I had launched Teen Art Salon and I wanted to pick something extra to support my work with young artists. I saw the bike safety instructor position with Bike New York and that’s how I got started. Shoutout to Kristina Sepúlveda for giving me a scholarship!
At Bike New York, I was able to participate in youth instructor training around child safety, best practices to communicate with young people, and how to make them feel welcome. It was a really rare experience – everybody was quite young and from NYC but had very different backgrounds, experiences, and abilities. So we had a really cool group that we continued to work with.
What has been your greatest reward in teaching bike education?
Teaching with the Living School [in New Orleans] was extremely rewarding, even though the area is 100% not built for bikes. There are dehumanizing road conditions, careless signage, and only two designated bike lanes in the entire area. But ultimately, young people have to find a place to ride. This may be their only form of transportation and they have to find ways to adapt in their community and area.
So we still took youth on rides and encountered both applause and harassment from drivers. We rode under highways, visited local parks, and went to snowball stands for a treat. We tried to give them a full experience and not let the geography of the area limit what we’re doing. Because we have a right to be here, and this is a way to show routes that are safe for individual riding vs. group riding. Shoutout to the brave, courageous youth who rode with us and quickly absorbed the skill set for road safety.
In your experience, what role does bike education play in empowering youth?
Many young people feel like they aren’t good at sports. There’s just a lot of pressure and nerves around how youth sports are presented. But biking is for every person of every body type, and anyone can learn to feel super successful, have fun, and be active on a bike!
Give us an interesting or funny fact about you.
I went from having one bike to four bikes! It’s funny how the bike community can get you deeper. I started with a hybrid and now I’ve gotten into BMX. That’s a testament to the connections of a community.
What is your favorite thing about being on a bike?
It’s really all you need! I have been able to not learn to drive, due to the cities I’ve lived in and the fact you can put groceries on a bike. I love that you can transform the machine to fit your personal needs. You never have to find parking; you don’t need gas! You can put it right next to you at a picnic table, it takes up very little room.
What is your favorite memory from being on a bike?
I loved being a Youth Ambassador for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour. You build relationships with riders for several months to train and build up their confidence for the 40-mile tour. I loved witnessing the magic of the moment — getting up at 6AM for a big ride, either on a used bike or a bike you built yourself, and cheering them on throughout the tour.
What is your best piece of advice for an LCI who wants to teach a class but isn’t sure how to get started?
Learn about your community before you go into teaching. As someone who has moved cross country, there is a ton of difference in road conditions, demographics, economic scenarios, access to public bathrooms and water, even the types of bikes popular between different areas.
Spending time getting to know who you will be teaching through research and spending time in the area before deciding to teach would be my piece of advice. Don’t come rolling up with an ego thinking your method is the best or only way. From age, to access, to resources, spend time with information.
Also, things can change between zip codes. You need to know where bathrooms are and you want to reckon with the fact that we are sharing space with the public. People will come up to you if they aren’t happy you’re there and you have to learn how to commune.
What is something you think that all LCIs should know about teaching bike education?
Your professional development should be different for youth education and adult education. If you’re offering classes free to the public, you should really supplement your bike education training for best practices working with the public. DEI and trauma-informed training is super helpful. Also, anything from first aid and CPR, learning to use epi-pens, learning the kinds of challenges people will bring to cycling whether psychological, emotional, or physical – overall you should invest in learning how to prepare for all situations you might find working with the public. Otherwise, I’d suggest just trying to up your knowledge and see what other people are doing. Working with mentors is a great way to do that.
Do you have any upcoming events going on or news that you’d like to share about?
Teen Art Salon has an exhibition opening at MOMA PS1 on November 16th! Learn more here: https://www.momaps1.org/programs/316-teen-art-salon
I recently joined the Youth Bike Summit Steering Committee, and I will hopefully be attending the Youth Bike Summit the 14th – 16th of June in Allentown, Pennsylvania! The application is live this fall, so get ready to submit!