IOWA CITY — What’s the No. 1 rule of bike club?
To lift each other up, says Bernoli Luvandu, 11. That means not yelling at someone who’s biking slowly, and encouraging friends as they learn new skills for gear shifting and braking strategies.
For the past few weeks, Bernoli has met in Iowa City with AmeriCorps volunteers and Iowa City Bike Library representatives for a series of drills and workshops that infuse bike mechanics work with mindfulness workshops.
For Bernoli, bike club is a way to get outside, learn about biking and be with friends during the COVID-19 pandemic — especially at a time when other youth programming is canceled.
Started by the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County and Iowa City Bike Library three years ago, the bike club is a summer program that takes children through structured bike curricula. By the end of the program, they receive a free bike. This year, the bike library has given out about 40 bikes.
“It’s more than just transportation or recreation,” said Iowa City Bike Library Executive Director Audrey Wiedemeier. “There are so many life skills that go along with riding a bike, — learning how to ride a bike, getting deeper into the mechanics of how the machine works, knowing how to fix something when it goes wrong out in the field.”
On Wednesday, Bernoli propped his bike on a fix-it stand and adjusted the derailleur, which moves the bike chain when someone shifts the gears to make it easier or harder to pedal when going up or down hills.
Last year, 10 bikers met for three hours a day for a week, but this year COVID-19 complicated matters. To socially distance, instructors do drills one-on-one Tuesdays through Thursdays, instead of a group of 10. Bikers wear masks with their names written on, use extra hand sanitizer and have their temperatures taken.
On Fridays, participants meet up for ice pops and go on a ride on the Sycamore Greenway Trail to Kickers Soccer Club field — which is Miriam Bikwesi’s favorite part about the bike club.
The 12-year-old has attended for the past three weeks with her two sisters to get out of the house, joking that it was a way for them to spend time together without sibling fighting.
For her sister Aisha Bikwesi, 5, Wednesday was her first time on a bike. She rolled down a trail at Wetherby Park on a bike without pedals to get her balance before next week, when she moves onto a bigger bike.
Despite limitations brought on the by the coronavirus, Wiedemeier said the program is able to offer more one-on-one work.
In August, the group will partner with the Multicultural Development Center of Iowa, based in Iowa City, for participants to make bike lights from 3D-printed materials.
The bike camp first started as a way for the Bike Library to put its donated bikes for kids to good use, said Mike Haverkamp, vice president of the Iowa City Bike Library. The program started at four elementary schools.
“Students need to develop a certain amount of perseverance and grit and keep at something and to develop those skills of perseverance, and I don’t think there’s anything better than teaching grit than learning to ride a bike,” he said.
The bike library accepts donated bikes. People can drop off bikes between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 3.p.m. Saturdays at the Iowa City Bike Library, 700 S. Dubuque St.
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The pandemic has sidelined most other programming by the Iowa City Bike Library. But prospective bikers still can check out a bike to ride for the summer —- an outdoor activity that has seen heightened demand as people look for a respite from the pandemic. People can check out bikes for up to six months with a deposit — depending on the bike — ranging from $75 to $300.
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