5 April 2022

Thomas' upcycling helps first-timers get on their bikes

| Chriss Buchan
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Thomas Lemerle

Thomas Lemerle in his workshop. Photo: Chriss Buchan.

When his dad gave him his first bike, Thomas Lemerle could barely reach the pedals but that didn’t stop him taking to the streets of Wagga and learning to ride in the 90s.

It was a carefree time but one that planted the seed of a business idea that took more than 20 years to blossom – a bicycle recycling service.

Thomas stepped out of his comfort zone and into the new venture – the Bike Canteen – a couple of years ago, claiming “it was dad’s idea”.

“Dad loved cycling, especially when he was in Cambridge,” Thomas said.

“I came across the idea again when at university with a mate doing a similar thing, but now it’s my turn and just look at how it’s grown.”

The idea behind the Bike Canteen is to take second-hand bikes, refresh them and then return them to the community.

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“I’ve got 30 of them now,” Thomas said proudly.

“I’ve got all types, even an old step-through, children’s bikes, BMXs, brands like Repco, Apollo and Dunlop. I had a fold-up bike once and (partner) Liv and I have the ‘tipshop tandem’ that we ride around. The kids cheer when we come out, it is something new for them!

“With dad’s influence and that ‘feel good’ experience I had on my bike, I thought due to the popularity of cycling and soaring costs of fuel, plus the benefits through the exercise, there was a gap in the bicycle market.

“Buying a bike for the first time … can be rather daunting, it’s almost like pedalling into the unknown. There’s often uncertainty as to what people want and what they can afford.”

A small part of Thomas’ collection of tools. Photo: Chriss Buchan.

Through the Bike Canteen, Thomas helps people work out their individual needs according to whether the bike is going to be used for work, leisure or rehabilitation.

“[In that case], I offer to help them through the exercises taking into account also their stature, experience and age,” Thomas said.

“One family had several bikes stolen and just wanted replacements. Another was recently widowed and wanted the personal touch.

“I select what’s the most appropriate and they choose from there. Then I get to work greasing and lubricating, replacing seats and tyres, adding lights.

“I love mending older things like bikes, where I can bring life back into them. It’s satisfying and rewarding, especially seeing someone get onto a bike for the first time.

“The Bike Canteen’s success in getting children onto bicycles is very satisfying, also NDIS clients.”

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Though not for profit, Thomas does accept payment and donations. Needy people unable to fund their own bikes are not sent away empty handed if Thomas can help it, as was the case with a young man who needed transport to help him find work.

Word of mouth has attracted customers weekly. To keep up with demand, the entrepreneur has accumulated an impressive collection of tools over time from the tip and roadside dumping areas.

“Everything I do through the Bike Canteen assists in reducing landfill,” he said.

“Liv and I also want to do the tandem up for display purposes, but presently I am busy with the repairs and maintenance of the other bikes.”

Thomas is keen not only to keep the wheels turning on the Bike Canteen, but to see it go the distance.

“I want Bike Canteen to grow – I would ideally like a shed for nominal rent where I could house the bicycles and run hands-on workshops – even have a canteen with refreshments, making it a social event as well,” he said.

The Bike Canteen currently has merchandise for sale to assist with the costs of parts and repairs. For enquiries, donations or offers of in-kind support (such as a shed that may fit the bill) please get in touch via the Bike Canteen Facebook site.

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