Cycling culture comes to campus

1/27/2009 - By: John Trent

Riding a bike offers so many benefits that it’s almost tiresome to list them.

Call it Bicycling Benefits 101.

For the environmentally conscious, it’s an opportunity to save the planet from further buildup of greenhouse gases.

For the physically fit, it’s yet another chance to improve cardiovascular efficiency and build muscle strength with very little pounding of much-needed cartilage, ligaments and tendons.

And yet there is one other byproduct, often overlooked, that is perhaps just as important when considering the benefits of the bike.

University of Nevada, Reno economics senior Cody Deane can explain it well.

“It’s just really relaxing,” says Deane, a cycling enthusiast from Sand Point, Idaho, who chose the University, for among other things, its collegiate cycling club, the Wolf Pack Cycling Team.

“A big aspect for me is to be more in touch with the seasons and what’s going on. When you’re in your car, with the heater turned up and the music turned up, you’re just disconnected.

“I’ve ridden to campus when it’s been 90 degrees out, and when it’s been 20 or 10 degrees out. It’s cool either way.

“You just have a tendency to see and hear a lot more when you’re on a bike.”

A growing culture

Apparently, a number of Deane’s fellow students feel the same way. In a big way, cycling culture has come to campus during the past six months.

Mark Nichols, an associate professor of economics in the College of Business, spent most of the last summer and early fall commuting to campus from his home, which is located 5.7 miles away. The 42-year-old Nichols said he was surprised and impressed by the number of cyclists who were joining him on their way to work.

“Absolutely,” the 42-year-old says when asked if it seemed there were more bikers on the roads around the University this fall. “I see more bikers on the road and the campus bike racks are full. I think a lot more students are riding their bikes to campus. It also helps create the ‘sticky campus’ that (University) President (Milt) Glick promotes.

“It’s great to see.”

An all-time high

Nichols’ words are borne out by the numbers.

According to Michelle Horton, alternate transportation and special event manager for the University’s Parking and Transportation Services, bike use on campus is at an all-time high.

Horton said that this fall, Parking and Transportation Services recorded 551 bikes that were registered on campus – the most ever. A year ago, by comparison, 398 bikes had registered with Parking and Transportation Services for a campus bike pass.

Horton said there are a number of factors why this has happened.

“First, gas prices were extremely high,” she says, noting that for most of the fall, price for a gallon of gas hovered around $4 per gallon or higher. “Secondly, parking permits went up $15 this year. Thirdly, we have made a conscious effort to inform students, faculty and staff of their options.”

Horton said Parking and Transportation Services’ OPTIONS program has encouraged the campus community to carpool, bus, bike, or park and ride to campus for little or no cost. Horton added that the program has left no stone unturned, and has worked to inculcate prospective Nevada students from the earliest moments possible in their time on campus.

“I make the trip to all of the high schools in Reno and Las Vegas and inform incoming freshmen of their options and encourage them to leave their cars at home,” she says. “To date, OPTIONS has been extremely successful.”

As Horton said, a culture of sustainable and environmentally conscious transportation options has taken hold in recent months. Not only has there been a strong upswing in the use of bikes. Survey data indicates that transportation behavior in general has gotten more social and eco-conscious. Horton said that in 2002, Parking and Transportation Services found that 870 individuals on campus were using alternative transportation to campus.

“Today that number is 1,843,” she said, adding that the percentage of faculty and students who choose to drive alone to campus has dropped significantly over the past six years. In 2002, 85 percent of faculty and 52 percent of students reported that they drove alone to campus. Today, 71 percent of faculty drive alone, while only 37 percent of students report driving alone to campus.

With more bikes has come more demand for biking amenities on campus, a problem that Horton happily reports is good to have. All of the campus’ 48 bike lockers are currently rented, and there is a short waiting list for those who would like one when they come available.

“I’ve ordered three more bike racks for the other side of the Joe Crowley Student Union and will continue to order more racks to meet the demand of bikers,” she says.

A common experience

All of this news is sweet music to the ears of a devotee such as Deane, who has competed in national championship events both on the road and on trails for the Wolf Pack Cycling Team.

Deane, though, is quick to note that one of the beauties of riding a bike is its inherently egalitarian nature — practically everyone learns from an early age how to ride one, and once they are purchased, very little cost is involved.

“I think you’re getting more students who want to live and work close to campus and they realize that a bike is the way to get around,” he says.

Deane says the campus’ recent growth north, with the opening of student-centered buildings such as the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center and the Joe Crowley Student Union, has only helped to increase the number of bike riders.

“The campus is now effectively two or three times bigger than it was before,” he says. “Before the Knowledge Center or the Student Union opened, you never had to go past Student Services or the Education Building.

“Now, half the campus is up there. If you want to go use the library, it’s a 10-minute walk … or only a couple-minute ride on your bike.”

Fun. Energizing. Not exhausting. Imagine that. Three more unintended consequences of the benefits of biking to campus.

“Although I do it to get exercise,” admits Nichols, “it really does clear my mind riding home.”

A long commute

John Sagebiel, the University’s environmental affairs manager and an avid cyclist since his days as an undergraduate at UC-Davis — perhaps the epicenter for cycling-oriented campuses throughout the country — has been heartened to see Reno’s roads fill with cyclists this fall.

Sagebiel rides a specially built “human electric hybrid” bike to campus each morning from his home above Callahan Ranch off the Mount Rose Highway. It’s a 33-mile roundtrip, with a 1,400-foot climb on the way home … hence, the necessity of an electrically powered bike.

“To me,” he says, “this all about commuting … this is all about having as much fun as I can.”

Sagebiel’s 53-pound bike, made by Optibike of Boulder, Colo., has a remarkably similar operating mechanism to a hybrid car.

“The way, say, a Prius hybridizes an electronic motor and a gasoline motor, this hybridizes an electric motor and a human pedaler,” he says.  “It all happens in the pedals and cranks.”

The bike, in essence, operates like a scooter when it runs on electric energy and can reach speeds of up to 20 mph without pedaling. If Sagebiel — a good rider who has successfully completed grueling endurance mountain biking events such as the Leadville Trail 100-miler in Leadville, Colo. — decides to really “crank” his pedaling, “it’s fairly easy to get it up to 25 or 26 mph … depending on the conditions, and if there is more or less still air and with me pedaling hard, I can get it up to 30 mph.”

With the 10-pound motor located where the bottom bracket would be on another bike, the bike’s pedal crank runs right through the motor, ensuring efficient change-off between pedaling and hybridization. When Sagebiel pulls the silver-and-blue-colored bike (the custom paint job even includes the hand-stenciled words “BATTLE BORN” on the frame) into the parking lot of the Applied Research Facility in the morning, Sagebiel is usually invigorated and ready to start his day.

Once in his office in the Applied Research Facility, Sagebiel simply uses a plug-in port located in the bike’s frame to charge the motor. The bike’s motor can run at full throttle for up to two and a half hours before needing further re-charging.

“It’s an extraordinarily capable machine,” he says. “For me, it’s really about getting there faster and with less effort, especially with all of the hill climbing I have to do on the way home.

“It’s really a combination of a workout and a commute. Plus … it’s fun. There’s a really interesting sort of meteorology dynamic that I experience when I come to work each morning. Starting up at Callahan Ranch, I hit these pockets of significantly cooler and warmer areas where you drop down between stream beds, or, as you come up Windy Hill, it’s much warmer at the top.

“You get this whole experience that you would miss out on in a car, where the temperature is nice and regulated by the heating system of the car. It’s fun and energizing and it’s not an exhausting workout to get to campus each morning.”


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