10 July 2023

Wagga's Bike Canteen moves from the basement to the back lanes of the CBD

| Chris Roe
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a woman and two men with bike helmets

Olivia Jones, Tom Lemerle and Wagga Freemason David Brow with The Bike Canteen’s custom helmets. Photo: Chris Roe.

Since launching The Bike Canteen in Wagga in 2021, Tom Lemerle has been tinkering in his Kooringal garage, repairing unwanted cycles and donating them to people who need them.

More than 120 Wagga locals have received a recycled bike in less than two years.

Now, with the support of Wagga’s Masonic Lodge, The Bike Canteen will be moving into Wagga’s CBD and expanding the operation to get more of the community on wheels.

“It’ll be really good to have a public space where people can come and visit,” Tom said with a grin.

“I envision it being something like a cross between a Men’s Shed and a clubhouse or a community workshop.

“We can help you repair your bike or you can fix a bike up for someone else, or maybe you are a serious cyclist and you want to help other people get into cycling.”

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The new location opens onto a laneway behind the Wagga Masonic Lodge on Tarcutta Street.

“So, we’ve got a disused storage space in the back of the building that the Freemasons have given to us basically for free,” Tom said.

“We’re next to the Wagga Academy of Ballet and the roller door opens onto Rural Place, which is behind The Press [cafe] and the seniors’ centre and the op shop, so it’s a really nice central location.”

a woman and two men with bike helmets

The new location opens onto Rural Place behind The Press Cafe. Photo: Chris Roe.

Tom is hopeful that the new location will help him and partner Olivia, who both work full time, to grow a community of volunteers.

“We’ve got a couple of student volunteers, Ainsley and Matilda from TRAC, who do a couple of hours a week as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award, which is really cool, and it’d be nice to get other people that have bike skills and are interested in helping other members of the community,” he said.

“The idea is that we’ll stock it with bike-specific hand tools and people will be able to come and use it free of charge and just be part of the community.”

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The Bike Canteen was fortunate enough to be awarded a grant from Riverina Water last year that enabled the group to complete a custom-helmet project.

“We had some artwork done by people from The Art Factory at Riverina Community College, and we got these urban BMX-style smooth helmets and covered them in vinyl wrapping to showcase the art on the helmets,” Tom said.

“We give them to people that receive a bike that don’t have a helmet, so it improves safety outcomes and it’ll be pretty cool to see a bunch of people riding around the CBD with these pretty lairy helmets!”

Bike helmet art

Two of The Bike Canteen’s custom helmets showcasing designs from The Art Factory. Photo: Chris Roe.

Recently, The Bike Canteen has been connecting with Wagga’s Multicultural Council and Tom said a bike could be a great way to help new migrants get mobile.

“For someone that’s moved to a town like Wagga under sometimes quite harsh circumstances, it’s really great to be able to give them a bike that helps them get some transport and that initial stepping stone into becoming part of the community,” he said.

“It can be as simple as getting to a night class at TAFE, which sounds really mundane for us, but for people in those circumstances is actually a huge deal. They can learn English, get jobs and then potentially get cars in the future.”

In the short term, Tom and the team will be working to get the space cleared and set up, and they hope to steadily build on the community they have begun.

You can find out more or get involved here.

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