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For several years now, Boston has been working hard to become a more bike-friendly city. It's constantly expanding its network of bike lanes, rolling out additional Hubway bike-sharing stations, and installing more bike racks. Now there's another step forward in Mayor Thomas Menino's goal of making Boston "a world-class bicycling city": A free bicycle club for young people recently opened in Dudley Square.
It operates out of the Yawkey Boys and Girls Club on Warren Street and it's a collaboration of several partners, including the city, the nonprofit group Bikes Not Bombs and Boston Children's Hospital. And when we visited, the place was packed — not just with kids from Roxbury, but also from surrounding neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roslindale and Hyde Park.
"Here, we have youth that are actually stripping bikes," says 18-year-old Tarese Thompson, the club's "crew chief," pointing to a bicycle being methodically disassembled by a group of youngsters
"They're taking what's on the bike and they're going to actually take everything off the bike so that it's back down to the frame," explains Thompson, a student at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, "and then we're going to rebuild them."
That deconstruction process is designed to teach bike mechanics. The club also instructs kids how to bicycle, if they don't know already, and organizes group rides.
"I think kids always love riding bikes," Thompson adds, "and a lot of times it's the parent that says, 'Oh, don't go too far.' But now we're basically giving them the opportunity where they can ride a bike, ride out on the street, and also ride around with friends."
Truthfully, we thought a group bicycle ride would seem way too un-cool to a bunch of middle schoolers to attract much interest. But, boy, were we wrong.
"They're going to be heading up Washington," Thompson says, "cutting on one of the side streets to Martin Luther King Boulevard, and they they're going to be taking the bike path on Martin Luther King Boulevard to the Southwest Corridor."
And, from there, on to Northeastern University. At least a dozen kids very eagerly went on that group outing, including 12-year-old Kaya Andrews, who lives in the South End and is a seventh grader at the Pierce School in Brookline.
"It feels really safe," Andrews told us after her ride, "because we have our signals that tell the whole group in chains up and down the line if there's a car in the back or if there's a car coming ahead or a biker so that we know when something's approaching us and it doesn't come by surprise."
When Andrews comes to the Dudley Square club, she rides one of 10 free bikes donated by the bicycle company Giant, which has also given the club an assortment of tools and other equipment for its in-house repair shop. That shop is staffed by high schoolers who service and repair bikes for free or at a discount for people in the community. They also teach younger kids bicycle mechanics and maintenance, like how to patch a flat tire.
This bike club is trying to do several things: give young people a way to get exercise, encourage biking as alternative transportation, and steer kids away from street violence. It's also teaching good bicycling citizenship and bicycle safety.
"Some kids don't even understand that we have the right to ride on the street," notes Thompson. "They think that we have to ride on the sidewalk. And this is a way that we can really push and let them know that riding on the street is OK," and inform them that riding on sidewalks is sometimes illegal.
And the kids who work in the club's repair shop get practical, marketable skills.
"I know a couple people who have gone through the programs who are working in bike shops now," Thompson says. "So, from what they've learned here, they're going out and they're making money off of it. But also this is a way where when their bike breaks down it's not just sitting in their basement for the next three years. They can actually fix it and keep using it."
During our visit to the bike club, we watched several kids mentally connect the dots of how a bicycle works, like when they discovered that cutting a certain cable results in the brakes no longer functioning. One of those budding engineers was Gianna McGee, a 15-year-old from Roxbury who goes to Newton South High School.
"These are the brakes, see?" McGee shows us. "And that little cable that comes this way connects to right here, where it was, and it clamps the tires together. That's what makes it stop."
For now, the Dudley Square bike club is a pilot project. It's open two afternoons a week, from 4 to 7 p.m., through mid-November and, if it's judged successful, it may be back again in the spring.
This segment aired on October 16, 2013.
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