Many of us take for granted the opportunities our upbringing allowed us. We enjoy our relative success and, sometimes, fail to see that others don’t have it so easy. It takes a special person to appreciate what they have and, in turn, to reach out to others to grant them the same opportunities.
Rahsaan Bahati grew up in Compton as one of seven children. His parents, both educators, were a strong influence in his life, but a person cannot always escape his surroundings. Compton, especially in the early ‘90’s, was a tough place, known for its gang-related violence. While Bahati was taught to avoid the drugs and the gangs, they surrounded him. “Tons of my friends in fifth and sixth grades were getting killed, going to jail and getting in with gangs.”
Bahati was sort of a troublemaker in school, describing himself as the class clown. After an incident in the classroom, Bahati’s teacher, Reggie Garner, told him he needed to find a useful outlet for his energy. He had a choice of afterschool programs: golf or bikes. Bahati laughs now as he recalls, “I was excited when I heard ‘bikes.’ I thought it was motorcycles, not bicycles! He tricked me.”
Despite his disappointment, maybe even a little because of it (This was a punishment, after all!), Bahati’s father insisted he stick with cycling. When the program was over, Bahati thought he had fulfilled his punishment, but his father insisted he return the following year. By then, the punishment factor had worn off and Bahati began to enjoy his new sport.
In the beginning, he was mostly riding and racing track. Part of the legacy of the 1984 Olympics was a velodrome in southern California and, along with it, funding for an amateur athletic foundation.
After two years of riding, Bahati competed at Nationals. The races were held in Kenosha, Wisconsin, just over the border from us, but a world away for Bahati. “It was the first time that I was outside L.A.,” an opportunity not afforded to many he knew. “I went with a few guys older than me and our coach. I was the youngest in the group. They were all seventeen, eighteen. They all won.”
Bahati recalls, “The winners took home the stars-and-stripes jersey, a medal and, because it was Wisconsin, they gave you a cheesehead [one of those giant plastic wedges of cheese you wear on your head].” While Bahati walked away with two bronze and two silver medals, that wasn’t enough for him. He remembers, “As a fourteen year old, I thought that cheesehead was the coolest thing in the world. I wanted that cheesehead.”
The chase for the elusive cheesehead became a driving force for Bahati. He also took away a lot more from that trip. While racing Nationals, he was exposed to hundreds of other kids who were cycling. Before that trip, “I didn’t know cycling was a sport you could make a living out of; I hadn’t seen the potential in cycling.” But suddenly, Bahati’s eyes were opened. “I got more serious about cycling.”
A few miles south of the Illinois/Wisconsin border, another man found himself with an itch that needed scratching. After graduating from The Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in 2001, Dan Rudrud found himself “with a lot of nervous energy and spare time.” It was bad enough that “my wife told me I needed to get a hobby.”
Rudrud had done a few triathlons during his college days at Arizona State University, so he felt comfortable on a bike, and decided to start there. He describes himself as an avid cyclist, not a racer, though you’ll see him kitted up at local crit races and cyclocross races, like the Glencoe Grand Prix and the Rhythm and Blues Revue Cyclocross Race, and charity-based races in Arizona.
Rudrud rides for the Bahati Foundation/WinTeam Racing. But that isn’t his only association with the pro cyclist. He is also the Vice President of the Bahati Foundation, a charitable organization that supports inner city youth in under-served communities through inspirational speaking engagements and cycling outreach programs, motivating them toward higher achievement in education, music and sports.
“I’ve always envisioned helping people,” says Bahati. “When you’re traveling a lot, you do a lot of thinking. I always saw myself helping kids who need help.” He adds, “Sometimes you can be a product of your environment. It’s not far off to say that cycling saved my life.”
When he was 19 years old, Bahati was racing in Switzerland. “I met a guy at a clinic, like the one I did at Higher Gear. He asked what I wanted to do after cycling. I responded, ‘I would just love to have a foundation, to run a foundation, to help inner city kids break through cycling, to help them through education.” That was the first time Bahati put into words the thoughts that had been going through his head during his travels. From those words, the Bahati Foundation grew.
Rudrud interjects, “There comes a certain time in your life, when you realize, ‘I’ve done enough for myself. Now, what can I do for others?’ But that usually doesn’t happen at nineteen; it happens at fifty. That’s really unique, at the age of nineteen or twenty. To truly give a large percentage of your time, it’s quite unique.” In Rudrud’s voice, you can hear the respect he holds for Bahati.
Back when Bahati first started cycling, he was embarrassed about it. “I went to Crenshaw High School in inner city L.A. It was known for basketball. We had alumni who went on to the NBA.” We all know what it’s like growing up. No one wants to stand out; no one wants his differences highlighted. When Bahati rode his bike, he hid his cycling shorts under baggy shorts.
When Bahati was going off to compete at Nationals, his school newspaper featured an article about him. “I was embarrassed about cycling. I didn’t think it was cool and I didn’t think it would be cool to them.” His peers’ response astounded him. “They didn’t see the tights and the helmet. They saw the airplane. They saw that I got to travel. They saw that I got to get out of L.A.”
Just like Bahati before cycling, most of his peers would never get out of the inner city. Suddenly, they saw cycling as a way out. “I got three kids into cycling at my school. They all went on to become national champions. They all went on to college.”
Bahati himself went on to attend the University of Indiana. There, he and his Team Major Taylor took second in the 2003 Little 500. The team was named after Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, a cyclist who raced and broke down walls of prejudice a hundred years before Bahati, and who serves as an inspiration to Bahati.
In 2001, Bahati got to meet Quentin E. Primo, III. Primo, an IU graduate with a passion for cycling, had come to speak at his alma mater. “It’s rare being black in this sport,” Bahati says. “When the Foundation rolled around, [Primo] was one of the guys I wanted to hit up.” Primo now serves as an Executive Committee Member for the Bahati Foundation.
Through cycling, Bahati may have impacted three of his high school peers’ lives. With his Foundation, his reach goes much farther. At the end of 2013, SmartStop Self Storage partnered with the Bahati Foundation for their Adopt-a-School Program. SmartStop’s $17,000 donation helped to provide instruments for Crenshaw High School’s band program as well as shoes and warm-up suits for the King R. Drew High School girls’ basketball teams.
The donation of instruments to Crenshaw students was close to Bahati’s heart. His father had taught him to play the saxophone when he was five years old. Bahati went on to play in his high school band. The students had been playing the same instruments that were around when Bahati went to school there. There just isn’t the funding for music programs in inner city schools.
Through the Bahati Foundation and SmartStorage’s partnership, Bahati got to witness the delivery of brand new instruments to the band teacher, “who was my teacher ten years ago.” Bahati also got to witness “the smiles on [the student’s] faces.” After supplying the entire school with the instruments they need, his next mission is to find a corporate sponsor to help fund the marching band uniforms, which run a staggering $800 apiece.
Cycling brings people together. Rudrud tells us, “It’s a great group of people I’ve met through cycling. When you get on the bike, people don’t talk about business. You forget about your day job and have a good time.” He adds, “I’ve met some very fantastic people in this sport, Rahsaan being one of them.” In fact, the two men have become friends over the years.
Bahati visits Rudrud in Wilmette a couple times a year. He has witnessed Rudrud’s children grow up and he’s put away his fair share of Dutch Baby Pancakes at Walker Brothers. Bahati includes the Glencoe Grand Prix on his racing calendar. He, Rudrud and Primo have all participated in the Wrigley Field Road Tour, a charity bike ride that benefits the global work of World Bicycle Relief and the local work of Chicago Cubs Charities.
In the WFRT’s first year, Bahati donated a limited edition Graffiti bike frame and fork. An injury kept him out of the 2013 WFRT, but he did participate in the ride’s first three years. Bahati was delighted to be involved with WFRT. “It really makes me feel good to be a part of World Bicycle Relief. I was thrilled when Dan invited me. Learning about the work is inspiring. A bike makes a difference for so many, thousands of people!” We at Higher Gear are no strangers to the power of bicycles. Through our partnership with World Bicycle Relief, we know how one bicycle can make a difference.
Bahati has spent fifteen years racing at a pro level, specializing in criterium and track racing. His career achievements include winning the amateur USCF National Criterium Championships in 2000 and the elite USPRO National Criterium Championships in 2008. He has also represented the United States at three world championships. But his most cherished accomplishments are the impact he has had on children’s lives, through his Bahati Foundation, all through the power of bicycles.
We invite you to learn more about the Bahati Foundation and the impact it is making in the lives of inner city children.
- Visit the Bahati Foundation website.
- Learn how to become a member of the Bahati Foundation Cycling Club.
Thank you to the others who also make their rides count by riding the Gran Fondo Hundo to support World Bicycle Relief.
- Check out the recap of the Gran Fondo Hundo.
- Learn how participating in the Gran Fondo Hundo helped support World Bicycle Relief.
The mission of the Foundation is to support inner city youth in under-served communities through inspirational speaking engagements and cycling outreach programs. These are designed to motivate and empower kids toward higher achievement in education, music and sports. We invite corporate partners to exercise corporate social responsibility by becoming involved with the mission of the Bahati Foundation and the cycling team – in an effort to positively affect the lives of inner city and underprivileged youth.
The Bahati Foundation prides itself on helping others. This is no different for young cyclist looking to be cycling champions. One of the ways we help the future of the sport is by hosting cycling skills clinics, cycling camps, speaking engagements and much more. Raising money for youth development is very important and allows us to offer these clinics free of charge to the participants.