Friday, March 16, 2007

Where the bikes are

Image of bicycling students at the University of California, DavisFrom the Chronicle of Higher Education, 02.23.07 (requires subscription):

Where the bikes are
By Scott Smallwood

Within Davis, the campus of the University of California attracts even more bikes. All college campuses are teeming with them, but Davis is in another league. With the core of campus off limits to most cars, the roads have become a two-wheeled version of a California freeway, with hundreds of students dodging one another around traffic circles.

At the center of the campus sits the Bike Barn--a remnant of Davis's roots as the "cow college" extension of the Berkeley campus. Built in 1910, it was a dairy barn for years. Now it houses a bustling bike shop where students repair more than 10,000 bikes a year...

When you repair 10,000 bikes a year, you see some crazy ones. One guy regularly brings his bike in with broken spokes and busted rear wheels. The problem, Mr. (UC Davis Bike Barn manager Robert)St. Cyr tells him, may be the garden that he grows on the rear rack. He carries 150 pounds of dirt and geraniums around the campus.

But mostly the shop deals with cheap department-store bikes. "You pay $50 for one from K-B Toys or Wal-Mart, and then instantly, the bike falls apart," Mr. St. Cyr says. And then he corrects himself. He shouldn't call them bikes: "Really it's an imitation bicycle."

He outlines a few of their failings. The brakes squeal terribly on the painted rims, giving off a toxic smell. And the wheels are so weak, he says, that properly inflating the tire will sometimes bend them in half...

Here's a surprising thing about the university in Bike City USA. "It's the scariest place I've ever ridden," says Mr. St. Cyr.

"You can ride through gangster neighborhoods, and it's safer than riding through here," he says. "Students will obey basic traffic signs off campus, but the minute you get on campus, it's just lawlessness. That's how you survive. That's how you get around on campus and you realize that no one behaves in a predictable manner. The pedestrians don't look when they cross the street. The cyclists just ride wherever they want to ride, and no one pays attention."

Sounding like a grandfather complaining about the younger generation, Mr. St. Cyr derides the students who ride while listening to their iPods or talking on their cellphones. All of that has made it even more dangerous. (Read more.)
I've provided extensive excerpts from this article, as it requires a Chronicle of Higher Education subscription to read the online archive. These are the primary points: that university students waste too much money on junky bikes; and that lacking much experience operating a bicycle, these students needlessly endanger themselves.

I'm an admitted enthusiast for "Bike City USA" Davis, California--where I am now employed at the University of California, Davis. With its high mode share for bicycling, the city has become a laboratory for traffic engineering for two-wheeled transportation. As the article indicates, there are challenges remaining to be sure. These shortcomings were the topic of a recent presentation on the city's bicycling history.

Image: Debbie Aldridge/University Communications/UC Davis
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips

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