By Ed Brennen
The winter gear is packed away, the snow is nothing but a memory and the bicycles are coming out of hibernation across campus once again.
To help students safely enjoy the many benefits of cycling in the warm months ahead, Campus Recreation is rolling out new classes and options for riding through its Bike UMass Lowell program.
“Cycling is a great way for students to stay healthy, and it’s good for the environment,” says Kevin Soleil, assistant director of outdoor and bicycle programs. “More cycling equals less cars equals less pollution.”
And with the League of American Bicyclists recently designating UMass Lowell as a Bicycle Friendly University, the campus is a great place for students, faculty and staff to ride. Here are a few ways to get in gear:
Want to ride but don’t have a bicycle? You can check one out for free through the popular Free Wheelers Bike Share program, which has five stations across campus. With the Free Wheelers App, you can find bikes available near you, reserve a bike and track your usage.
“Free Wheelers is going strong,” says Soleil, who spent the winter tuning up the Free Wheelers fleet with his staff at the campus Bike Shop. “We just ask that you treat the bikes with respect — as if they were your own.”
For those who have their own wheels, the university now offers a free bicycle registration program to help protect them. To register, simply fill out the online form and upload a photo of your bicycle. Then bring your bicycle to the Bike Shop, where they will verify the serial number and give you a registration sticker. The Bike Shop will even send UCAPS your bike registration number. “We’re encouraging everyone who rides on campus to register online,” says Soleil. “That way, if your bicycle is ever lost or stolen, it’s another way to help you get it back.”
Maybe you haven’t ridden a bike since middle school, or you want to learn tips on how to safely navigate the streets of Lowell. The university now offers Smart Cycling workshops designed for riders of all skill levels. The free three-hour courses are offered once each semester (although they may expand in the future). Featuring both classroom instruction and bicycle skills drills, the course covers best safety practices, basic traffic skills and maintenance checks.
“We’re actively trying to improve cycling on campus and make sure people ride in a responsible, respectful way,” says Soleil, who became a certified League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor along with Bryce Hoffman, the university’s executive director of marketing, last summer.
Hannan Shafiq, a sophomore mechanical engineering major from Pakistan, participated in the first Smart Cycling course last fall. “I hadn’t ridden much before, and I wanted to learn how to become better,” Shafiq says. “The course was a good idea. I got to know the signals and what my rights are on the road.”
The Bike Shop also hosts Bike Maintenance Basics courses several times each semester for a $5 fee. Or, you can always bring your bicycle into the Bike Shop to get it road-ready.
To promote responsible cycling, the Bike Shop has set up a commitment that students can sign online at uml.edu/bike. Students who sign the commitment, which covers topics such as traffic laws, wearing a helmet and using hand signals in traffic, have a chance to win monthly prizes like helmets, locks and lights.
And finally, if you prefer to pedal with a pack of people, the Bike Shop hosts Group Rides every other Thursday, beginning at 5:15 p.m. at the Campus Recreation Center patio (online registration is required). Meanwhile, the Outdoor Adventure Program offers longer trips outside of the area, including the annual Boston Midnight Marathon Bike Ride, which lets riders cycle the marathon course the night before the race.
“The university is becoming more and more bike-friendly,” Soleil says. “We’re always thinking about ways that we, as a cycling culture here in Lowell, can come together and improve ridership and become a better bicycle-friendly community.”