The first difference you notice when entering the university’s new Outdoor Center and Bike Shop is how you enter.
No longer tucked away on the second floor of the Campus Recreation Center, the new location at 5 Lawrence Drive on East Campus (behind River Hawk Village) features a street-level entrance that makes coming and going with bicycles a relative breeze. The customer parking spots and bike rack right outside the front door help, too.
Inside the new location, the improvements are even more apparent, from the welcoming (and well-stocked) retail space, through the vastly expanded bike workshop, to the meeting room/storage area for the Outdoor Adventure Program.
What once was crammed into a 400-square-foot room is now spread over nearly four times as much space.
“We’re able to serve a lot more students in a much more professional way,” says Director of Campus Recreation Peter Murray, who notes that the new space was needed to keep up with the university’s growth as a bicycle-friendly campus and with students’ growing interest in outdoor programs.
The Free Wheelers bike share program, which is maintained by the Bike Shop, was used a record 3,978 times in FY2018, a 487-ride increase from the previous year. And more students are bringing their own bicycles to campus. In its annual survey, Campus Rec counted 387 bicycles (and unicycles) on campus in FY18, more than double the total from two years earlier.
The Outdoor Adventure Program, meanwhile, drew a record 422 participants on 45 trips in FY18. The new location provides a place to store gear and hold meetings prior to trips, whether for a spring break backpacking adventure in the Grand Canyon or a weeknight visit to a local rock climbing gym.
“The volume of business had increased so much that we were feeling squeezed in the old space,” says Kevin Soleil, assistant director of outdoor and bicycle programs. “We now have a right-sized facility for our programs.”
Since the Outdoor Center and Bike Shop moved to its new location on May 2, business has been booming. The shop, which is open to both the university community and the general public, did $7,180 in retail sales, equipment rentals and repair work in its first month, compared to $2,180 the previous May.
In the retail shop, a rainbow of new bikes lines one wall, along with an assortment of helmets, bike locks, tire pumps and riding gloves. At the register, customers can grab protein bars, a water bottle and a map of the local riding trails. If the shop, with its exposed brick and track lighting, resembles an REI or Eastern Mountain Sports, that’s by design. Campus Rec hired a retail advisor, Scott Michel, to help set it up.
In the adjacent bike workshop, work-study student mechanics now have more room and equipment to perform tuneups for customers and to maintain the Free Wheelers fleet.
“Going from that small shop to this is a huge change,” says mechanical engineering major German Reyes, a rising sophomore from Lawrence who began working in the Bike Shop as a freshman. “It’s a lot more organized now, so we can be more productive.”
Whereas the former shop had just one workbench and two bike stands, the new shop has three workbenches and five bike stands. Soleil says the shop will provide “open stand time” for students who want to come in and learn how to work on their own bikes.
“They can use professional tools and ask questions,” he says. “We have the resources to make it a robust learning atmosphere.”
One of the student mechanics who is eager to teach others is Ely Depina, a rising sophomore computer engineering major from Cape Verde. For the past five years, Depina has worked for a nonprofit organization in Boston called “Bikes Not Bombs,” which teaches kids about bicycle repair.
“I’d like to use some of that knowledge-based structure here to help teach basic mechanics,” says Depina, who began working in the Bike Shop as a freshman. “Anyone can come in and work on their bike.”
In addition to getting the new location up and running, Murray and Soleil are busy this summer improving the university’s bicycle parking. In April, Camus Rec received another $3,000 grant from the university’s Sustainability Encouragement & Enrichment Development (S.E.E.D.) Fund to continue upgrading bike racks across campus. Since 2015, the number of quality bike parking spots across campus has increased from 497 to 761.
“Students have really responded to the university’s push to become a more bike-friendly campus,” Murray says. “I think it speaks to people’s desire for more sustainable transportation.”
“It’s really gratifying to be on a campus that values bicycling and sustainable transportation,” Soleil adds. “And that’s been shown with this new facility.”