Getting tuned up: Bike repair clinic at Florence Heights gets cyclists back on road

  • Ben Culver of Florence, 13, works on fixing his younger brother’s bike during a Bikes for All repair clinic, hosted by the Friends of Northampton Trails. It took place Saturday at Florence Heights. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Ben Culver, 13, of Florence works on fixing his younger brother€’s bicycle during a Bikes for All Repair Clinic, hosted by the Friends of Northampton Trails, Saturday, at Florence Heights. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Bikes for All chief mechanic and Friends of Northampton Trails volunteer Tom Bodo tests out a bicycle’s brakes during a repair clinic in Florence Heights on Saturday. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Volunteer mechanic Ruthy Woodring of Florence shows 13-year-old Ben Culver of Florence how to repair his younger brother’s bicycle during a Bikes for All clinic Saturday in Florence Heights. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Bikes for All chief mechanic Tom Bodo unspools some new cable housing during a bicycle repair clinic Saturday at Florence Heights. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2021 6:36:41 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Steve Robinson was trying to remember when he had last ridden his bike. He figured it was before the pandemic, when he started having trouble with his gearing, followed by a broken chain. Then he was struggling financially and wasn’t in a position to pay for repairs.

But on Saturday, Robinson, who lives in Florence Heights, was finally getting his bike back in shape, courtesy of a free repair clinic staged by vounteers with a number of area organizations, including Friends of Northampton Trails (FNT) and a regional chapter of MassBike, the statewide bicycle advocacy group.

As he watched volunteers Tom Bodo and Kate Dollard work on his bike, strapped up on a stand, Robinson said he was looking forward to riding alongside his son, Kayson, who’s 4.

“He keeps saying, ‘Dad, when are you going to ride with me?’” he said with a laugh. “I try to walk along with him, but I can’t keep up. Now it’s going to be a lot easier.”

The workshop Saturday, held outside the apartment complex under two canopies in case of rain, was the fourth free repair clinic that FNT, a nonprofit group, has staged this summer in apartment complexes in the city, including Hampshire Heights, Meadowbrook and the Lumberyard.

Counting the bikes serviced Saturday, volunteers have likely repaired over 40 bikes this summer in a program called “Bikes For All,” said George Kohout, FNT’s president.

Kohout noted that the clinics have all been aimed at helping riders who might not have the finacial means to get their bikes fixed, as has a complementary program in which volunteers have refurbished used bicycles and given them to local people, mostly children, for free.

“This all started last year when the Black Lives Matter movement really took off,” said Kohout. “We just started talking about ways that we could make sure bike trails and riding opportunities were accessible to more people.”

Last year FNT gave out about 40 bicycles, and additional equipment such as helmets and headlights, Kohout said. This year volunteers staged repair clinics (and gave out more bikes), while also doing some instruction on basic repairs such as fixing a flat tire.

The repair clinics have been arranged in cooperation with the Northampton Housing Authority (NHA), POAH Communities (Preservation of Affordable Housing Inc.), and Way Finders, the regional affordable housing developer. Kohout said staff with those groups have helped publicize the clinics to residents and identified youth and   families who need good used bikes.

Netanya Oritz, resident services coodinator with NHA, said she’d posted flyers at Florence Heights to let people know about the event and had followed up with phone calls to remind them of the clinic.

At Florence Heights, lead mechanic Tom Bodo spoke with a woman who gave her name simply as JB on the problems she was having with her bike.

“Which tire keeps going flat?” said Bodo, as he hoisted the bike onto a workstand.

“Both of them,” said JB.

Just across from them, Ben Culver, 13, was working on a bike belonging to his 11-year-old brother, Brandon, with the help of Ruthy Woodring, one of the founders of Pedal People. “I know he wants to be riding again,” Ben said of his brother.

Meantime, as he checked the tires and the front brake cable of JB’s bike, Bodo pointed to the end of the front brake cable, then fastened a small metal cap onto it.

“This is something that’s always good to do,” he said to JB. “It keeps the cable end from unraveling, which can be a problem when you’re trying to adjust the brakes.”

Bodo, a high school teacher in Springfield, said he began working in bicycle cooperatives in his native North Carolina to improve his own repair skills and to help other riders. He sees the work with FNT as a natural progression of that work.

Ideally, he added, FNT can find a building or other space next summer — maybe one with a “generous landlord,” he added — where he and other volunteers can have a workshop with regular hours for teaching people about basic bike repair.

“That’s the long-range goal — show folks how to fix a flat, pump up a tire, keep their chain lubricated to prevent rust and shifting problems,” he said. “That will keep the bikes safer and promote more riding, which is what we all want.”

Steve Pfarrer can be raeched at

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