Sep 09, 2016
Have your bike gears suddenly stopped shifting, making you extra sweaty on your commute to campus? Or maybe your brakes have been getting looser, making you worried about riding through busy intersections.
Rory Baker and Emily McBride in the new home of the Bicycle Learning Center.
They can seem like daunting issues, but they’re often easy, cheap repairs that can be done on your own. But where to begin?
Enter HSU’s Bicycle Learning Center (BLC), a student-run toolkit and brain trust for all your bike needs. The center has been around for more than two decades, but it had become neglected and was forced by drainage issues to move out of its old brightly painted, wood-paneled space behind Nelson Hall.
It closed for nearly a year before alumnus Rory Baker (’16, Environmental Management & Protection) led the charge to revive the center in 2015, and it was relocated to a small workspace beneath the steps leading into the Recreation & Wellness Center. It’s now open for free, and judgment-free, bike advice.
Emily McBride and Wyatt Kozelka sit on crates on a sunny afternoon, in front of what they call the Harry Potter closet. It’s a cramped room with a slanted ceiling, but they’ve made the best of the small space, filling it with tools and spare parts. They’re there to help students make their bikes safer, easier, and more fun to ride.
“It’s intimidating,” McBride says, staring into a tangle of gears attached to a bike on a repair stand. Many people—especially those who rely on bikes as their only mode of transportation—will push through a worrisome noise or stop shifting when it’s not working right. But bike repair doesn’t have to be scary, she says.
McBride, an Environmental Management and Protection major set to graduate in Spring, has been comfortable with bikes her entire life. Her parents are cyclists and McBride frequented a bike “kitchen” in San Luis Obispo before attending Humboldt State. Kozelka, an Environmental Science senior, worked at a bike shop in his native Palo Alto, and more recently this summer for Pacific Outfitters. When his car broke down in 2013 he sold it and bought a bike. And then another. And another, and another. He likes the mechanical aspects of bikes. McBride likes the organizational challenges of the center.
Neither competes in races, but they like the bike culture locally. Despite the hilly campus and community, geared bikes, with proper maintenance, make cycling around town for shopping and commuting relatively easy. Getting people to embrace biking should be easier, McBride says, in a small town where just about everyone knows at least one person with a car for those longer trips.
That’s a side lesson in the learning aspect of the center, and getting more students to use the Bicycle Learning Center is just one of the club’s challenges.
Limited funding is another. The center runs on volunteers—Kozelka was doing 15 hours a week before Kevin Miller and Max Kittel took over some hours. And while they can do homework between tune-up lessons, it’s a big commitment to take unpaid. Kozelka’s happy to do it for now. “Instead of going to the library I come here. It’s really appealing. It’s convenient, there’s no stress, it keeps me busy,” Kozelka says.
In addition to their time, Kozelka and McBride have donated or loaned some tools and other items to the center. But the club can’t afford to stock all the types of things needed for the dozens of different models and brands of bikes that students ride—nor could they store all those materials.
That’s why the focus is on learning. Giving people the power to repair their own bikes also keeps the local bike shops happy—a relationship Kozelka and McBride acknowledge they’re eager to maintain. More people biking inevitably means more business, and even if people are doing minor repairs at home instead of dropping their bikes off, they’re still buying the parts they need at local stores.
In the meantime, Kozelka and McBride hope to maintain the Bicycle Learning Center’s momentum, encourage students to stop by, and expand the center’s involvement in bike-related activities. About five people a day stop in and ask questions. Often, when they’re on foot, they’ll wheel their bike in the next afternoon. Most of them need small repairs—a tightening of brake cables or some chain oil. Others need advice on more complex issues, such as fine-tuning a derailleur.
McBride envisions growing the center, and she’s been meeting with students and staff to discuss other bike programs, like group rides starting this month to acquaint people with cycling around town (and for fun), and a potential “bike fair.”
The benefits of biking to school are well known but they bear repeating: Biking is healthy, maintenance is cheap (especially if you learn to DIY), riding and parking are free, you don’t have to pay for parking (and you don’t have to spend all morning looking for a spot), it’s fun, fast, and good for the environment.
The Bicycle Learning Center is open from 2-5 p.m. weekdays. There are basic repair tools, including a bike pump, available 24 hours a day just outside the BLC door.
If you’re interested in joining the BLC or for more information, visit the Facebook page.