Worcester, Mass.
August 20, 2000

Kids learn and earn in bike repair class

By Lynne Tolman

  Don't tell Edwin Francisco of Worcester the title of Lance Armstrong's book, "It's Not About the Bike."
  Edwin, 9, is at a much earlier stage in his bicycling career than the two-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor from Texas. The stage when just getting a set of wheels is paramount, but maybe not financially within reach. Ask Edwin why he signed up for bike repair classes this summer, and he's quick to say it is about the bike.
  Edwin has his eye on a used silver freestyle bike donated to the Worcester chapter of MassBike. It needs work, and Edwin's willing to do it. So he's learning how, in MassBike's new Earn-A-Bike course at the Martin Luther King Business Empowerment Center, 237 Chandler St.
 By the time he completes the 16 hands-on repair classes, the bike Edwin desires will have had a complete overhaul, and Edwin will get to keep it.
  Nine youngsters, ages 9 to 15, are in the class, taught by Bicycle Alley employee Bo Daley. During a recent session, they all got their fingers greasy repacking hubs. They had already learned to fix flat tires and adjust brakes, and they talked about which bikes they hoped to be riding soon.
  "I'm the only one who gets what I want, because I'm the only girl," said Avae Thomas, 10, pointing out a purple hybrid amid the tangle of two-wheelers lining the walls of the shop. "All the boys are going to be fighting over the same one."
  Next time might be different. Earn-A-Bike already has 10 applicants from Girls Inc., said Greg Root, coordinator of the program along with Eric Larsson.
  Modeled somewhat after similar programs in other cities, such as the Bikes Not Bombs workshop in Boston, Earn-A-Bike aims to teach kids useful skills while recycling bikes that might have a touch of rust but don't belong in the dump. Besides the bikes they take home, the kids will work on others that MassBike then hopes to sell at low cost in neighborhoods where people couldn't otherwise afford bikes.
  "The big goal, in my book, is I hope I am producing bicyclists, kids that will love bicycling, even as they get older, through the driver's-license years," Root said.
  After the session on hubs, the kids heard a bit about road racing from juniors coach Toby Stanton, owner of the Hot Tubes bike frame-building business in Worcester. They also checked out a low-rider that Hot Tubes employee Chris Bull fixed up with BMX gears and a front disc brake. And Rachel Freifelder, a touring cyclist visiting from Oakland, Calif., shared tales of bike travel and showed the contents of her tool bag to the youngsters, who already recognized the tire levers and cone wrench.
  Earn-A-Bike got rolling last month with $8,000 in grants from the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, the Stoddard Charitable Trust and the University Transportation Center at Assumption College. Sears, LS Starrett and Fritz's Bicycle Shop have provided tools, parts and equipment at cost.
  After earning their own bikes, kids in the program can keep working in the Earn-A-Bike shop and earn gift certificates to bike stores, Root said, so they can get new parts or accessories.
  The repair course costs $10, and scholarships are available. Each child gets a new bike helmet. For more information, call MassBike Worcester at (508) 798-3438.

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