Thursday, August 26, 2010

Campus Bike Project promotes sustainable transportation

Campus Bike Project promotes sustainable transportation

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As he drove home from the grocery last weekend, Don Keefer of Urbana noticed a bike near the street, set out by a neighbor hoping someone would take it away. Keefer obliged. He saw in that red ten-speed an economical replacement for the bike his 11-year-old daughter had outgrown. But he also saw that it needed work—a new back tire, at least—and he was told by the former owner there was some problem with the pedals.

Keefer realized that he probably didn’t have all of the knowledge or tools needed to make the bike roadworthy. But he had seen a little place near his office on the U of I campus where he thought he might find those things.

The Campus Bike Project, which opened this past spring, occupies garage space off of Pennsylvania Avenue that was donated by the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability and converted with a grant from UI student sustainability funds. It’s a collaboration between the University and the Urbana Bike Project, which operates as a non-profit membership-based bicycle repair shop.

So, before going in to work on Monday morning, Keefer wheeled into the Campus Bike Project with his find and bought a family membership. That gave him instant access to lots of cool stuff, including specialized bicycle repair tools, collections of free spare parts, and space and a bike stand to work at. Beyond that, membership gave him access to expertise, in the person of Carl Stewart, the Campus Bike Project manager.

Over the next few hours, Stewart provided Keefer with advice and an occasional extra hand as he installed new tires, replaced crank bearings, and adjusted the brakes and derailleurs on his daughter’s new bike. Most of these operations were new to him, and the process took longer than expected (a partial day’s leave, it turned out), but in the end the red bike was fully restored. [Photo: Keefer at work (right) with Stewart lending a hand.]

I was visiting at the shop while Keefer was working, and during that time other people dropped by with various projects of their own. Among them were two sisters from the Chicago suburbs. The older one, a U of I Junior, needed to replace a leaking inner tube, which she did herself with a little coaching. The younger, a freshman, needed to buy a bike to get around campus, and she picked up a hybrid that had been refurbished by Bike Project staff for only $75. A worker with campus building services, who bikes recreationally, came in for advice on how to switch cleats from an old pair of cycling shoes to a new pair, and a student who was riding by on her way to class took time to put air in her tires and align her front wheel.

It should be understood that the Campus Bike Project is not intended to compete with full service bicycle stores, such as Durst and Champaign Cycle, which play such an important role in our community. It is, rather, to facilitate the reuse of bikes and bike parts, and to provide tools, guidance, and a convenient space and for people who wish to do some maintenance and repairs on their own.

You can learn more about the Campus Bike Project on the Web at