Tofik Beshir is a middle school student who is active in the Phoenix Bike program, headquartered at the Arlington Mill Community Center on Columbia Pike.
My name is Tofik Beshir and I like biking. I volunteer at a bike shop called Phoenix Bikes, on Columbia Pike. I also I race for Phoenix Bikes and another team.
I was born in Ethiopia. I used to have a brother, who was a year older than me. I grew up most of my life in Gondar, Ethiopia, which is about ten years. My life was normal until when I was about six and my parents divorced. Then, it was normal again, but then my brother died when I was ten years old, and he was eleven. And my mom was sick, so we came to the US. Then we lived with my aunt for like a year and a half in Maryland. We came to Arlington—to Clarendon and we lived there for a bit and then we came to Columbia Pike because Clarendon is expensive.
I went to T.J. Middle School and when I was a sixth grader, I heard about Phoenix Bikes. They came to our school and then I joined. They come to your school and teach you about bikes. I stayed for a while but I was busy with other stuff, so I didn’t finish the program.
Then one day my mom’s friend told her about this bike shop and how they teach kids how to build bikes and give them free bikes. So I went in and completed the program during drop-in hours, which any young person can do. I started volunteering here and I enjoyed it a lot and I saw a lot of stuff I have never seen.
We went to different places, races, places I had never been to before. And then COVID-19 happened, and the bike shop was closed for like five months or something. Then my bike broke so I came here and instead of me going inside and fixing it myself they fixed it for me. One day I went there, and they said I could fix it by myself and then I started going there, the only kid that could go because by now it had been like year, so they knew me well. Then kids started coming in and they started working on their bikes. When that happened, the bike shop was a little bit busy. So, I started working on like sales bike, which are donated bikes we fix to sell, to help the bike shop. We usually work on Give-a-Bike, which is we give to a community, or Earn-a-Bike where you earn it for yourself. I worked on sales bike and then one day we went to Crystal City. There was a race every Saturday, and the weather was good, so we went. There was the Armed Forces road race. Before that I fell in love with mountain biking and then I thought that was the best biking sport and so when I went to Crystal City, I just stood there at a corner. What happened was there was a mass of people and they turned the corner and this lady couldn’t turn and so she came forward and crashed in front of me. And I liked that feeling of being scared and then I thought that was cool because she did a flip and landed, and I was excited. I had a good time. There was food and then the next day the workers invited me to the Clarendon Cup race, which is the biggest road race around here, and then I was excited, and they told me about Black Riders. Because usually there isn’t like a lot of diverse biking communities or a little bit of different cultures. It’s mostly white people so I thought that was cool that there were Black Riders, because in mountain biking all the people were white. So that was the first stuff like that for me. I was happy about that.
I built my first road bike just a few weeks before the Crystal City race. I was happy because I thought then that it was the best bike, but now that I look back most of the stuff wasn’t right. I was riding it and a team saw me and I got a sponsor that day. And I was more happy. I started going to their practices, but they were very fast and I always used to be behind and just late and everything. But I was happy they didn’t make fun of me. In biking nobody makes fun of you whether you make it or not. And then I raced a few races with them and I didn’t do that good and when winter came I stopped riding because it was cold. When I rode again this year, I’m happy because I ride with them and I am the same level. And they are happy.
The team is called Kelley Benefits. They are based in Maryland. Their kids like sports and they started road biking, so they created a team. I ride for two teams. I do mountain biking and gravel which is like off-roading—Cyclocross races—with Team Phoenix. And then I do road biking for Kelley Benefits.
On Wednesday there was a local race called Wednesdays at Wakefield [Mountain Bike Park], in Fairfax. They have a community center, a skate park. I went there and I raced and I got second place. There were like thirty people or something. I was happy but I didn’t expect to come second, I expected to come first. The roads are narrow and young kids blocked the path so it took me a whole lap to recover. The one I’m doing Sunday, EX2 Adventures, the race is called Rails to River, at Lake Fairfax just going off-roading, down hills. I think the race on Sunday will be more competitive, there will be like 2000 people and I am very excited about it.
We came to Columbia Pike when I was half-way through 6th grade, before COVID. At first I thought this was the boring part of town because in Clarendon and Ballston there are big buildings with a lot of stuff going on and I thought that was the cool part of town and this was the weird part. And then I started living here and just riding my bike through everything, like the streets and off roading and I like this place more because it’s in the middle of everything. Like if you go down that way you have Old Town, if you go down that way you got D.C. You go that way for like two minutes you find a neighborhood and you go that way for two minutes and you find a forest and you go that way for two minutes you find the city. So it’s like in the middle.
This place is diverse. I feel connected. Because most of my friends are immigrants like me, I feel more connected to my immigrant friends than to some guy who is born in the U.S. We came from a different country, a different world, and we do some things different, but my country and their country in some ways are connected and the same. But you can’t connect my country to the U.S. as stuff is different. Like my friends are from Afghanistan, China, and South America, Guatemala, Panama, Peru. You feel more connected because this is not their first language, so they don’t speak English perfectly and I don’t either. And if you are trying to say something and they mess it up you understand them more than a person who grew up in the U.S. You just feel good because you understand them.
I biked a little bit when I lived in Ethiopia. There I always asked my mom to buy me a bike. I used to have a bike but something always happened to it or it got stolen. I had two or three bikes, just to ride around. But now its competitive and I spend all my time training. And it’s more fun because back home I just rode to school and used the bike to have fun and ride with friends. Here it’s train, ride with friends, and also do something different.
I see a lot of things in the future. I see less homeless people. Arlington is very good at helping people, If you are homeless or you need something, this is very good place for that. I think they should keep it up. They support road biking, but I hope they support off-roading. They think when we go off-roading we destroy the nature but actually we take care of it. And I see more after-school programs. There is a lot to do here I guess, and so Arlington is going to get crowded. I see some places, like forests, and I hope they don’t build any houses because like Amazon just moved in. Also in Arlington paying taxes is expensive and gets you good schools so people will come here for that. If you compare it to Maryland Arlington’s better. You can walk five minutes and go to wherever you want to go and people want that. Especially the younger generation, so there will be more people and they might need more land so they might cut down trees and that’s not good. Because that won’t help with the environment. There are a lot of apartments on Columbia Pike.
I’m thinking of in four years—before I finish high school—to ride with Kelly Benefits and try to get sponsored by a European team. America is the country that created mountain biking and Europeans created road biking so there’s more opportunities for that there. And then I want to do college but I also don’t want to do college. I want to see what it feels like to go to college and also, I feel like I have to go to college to get a good job but that’s not completely true. But I don’t want to mess up my life because I didn’t go to college. I want to pursue my life of biking. I am Ethiopian and I want to ride for my country. I like everything and I want to find out which one is good for me, and I have a few years to find out.
Interview by Sushmita Mazumdar, photography by Dewey Tron.
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