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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.


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