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Near West Side club teaches children how to repair bicycles

Even in snow or slush, Will Diaz, 11, gets around on his bicycle. He says it’s much easier than walking, his other option.

He and his bike were in the back room of the Mundy Branch Library on South Geddes Street this week for the first meeting of the season of a bike club for young people run by volunteer Alexandre Leclercq. Diaz, a sixth-grader who lives on the Near West Side, had just popped the chain on his bike and Leclercq was helping him. Diaz was watching and working.

“He teaches a lot of people everything,” he said about Leclercq.

Leclercq is an avid bicyclist who lives in Strathmore, not far from the library. Last winter he and his wife, Tina Limpert, as volunteers, launched the club. Limpert now works at the library. Leclercq teaches French at Manlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt and writes a blog, Syracuse Bicycle Works.

The idea for the club came to the couple as they saw how deep the bicycle culture runs in their neighborhood, Limpert said. People who bicycle in suburban environments are mostly interested in performance, Leclercq said. In the city, it’s more about transportation and fun, in his estimation.

Several club members said the bicycle is their primary means of transportation, winter not withstanding.

“Bicycling is freedom. You can go places. You don’t have to depend on adults for mobility,” Leclercq said.

But if the young people are going to ride bikes, they need to know how to fix them, so they don’t get stuck, he said. If they learn to work on bikes, they can make their bike into exactly what they want it to be with used parts, without depending on a big-box store, Leclercq said.

“We like the fashion of the bikes,” Diaz said. “It can be the raggediest bike in the world, we take it, we fix it up.”

In the first year, the club acquired a thriving following of mostly boys, who would regularly show up to work on bikes, learn from Leclercq and help each other. Some of them are great mechanics, Limpert said.

“I know mostly everything about bikes. I can take them apart and stuff,” regular Zyear Bowman, 15, said.

In the first hour of the new club season, a half-dozen or so boys and one girl showed up with bikes to clean them up, receive help repairing them and consider ideas for customizing them. Leclercq brought one of his bikes, with a “disc wheel,” which is a cover that covers the spokes. He made it out of an old political yard sign and painted a skull and crossbones on it. Diaz wants to make one for his bike that bears a “W.”

Leclercq is hoping the club will continue on through good weather so its members can go on group rides. Last year, the membership disappeared when Little League season began, he said.

He also would like to see bike lanes in the neighborhood.

“Every time I see Stephanie Miner I ask her to put bicycle lanes on Geddes Street,” he said.