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Nov. 10, 2011 Volume 33, No. 12

Bike Resource Center teaches bicycle repair self-reliance


Graphic by Marshall Danner


Center offers fix-up sessions, workshops

Bicycles are an affordable and environmentally friendly mode of transportation, but occasionally they need repairs.

The MU Sustainability Office educates faculty, staff and students about bicycle mechanics through the Bike Resource Center, which offers repair sessions every Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. on Lowry Mall.

“Bike safety has a few different factors, including making sure all the bike’s mechanical pieces are in order,” said senior Ben Datema, student sustainability supervisor. “Ideally, we’d like to show students how to repair their bikes by themselves so they can be more self-reliant. That way, when they’re riding and something small happens to their bike that prevents them from riding it, they can make that quick fix.”

Datema said he and Sustainability Coordinator Steve Burdic started the weekly workshops after they noticed many bikes locked on campus racks and abandoned for months because of flat tires and other easy fixes. The problems grew as time passed, because the bikes’ chains would rust, making the bikes impossible to ride.

With a finite amount of bicycle parking spaces (5,000 as of April 2011), overcrowding can prevent some faculty, staff and students from riding to campus because they might not be able to find a convenient place to safely leave bikes. One of the main goals of the Bike Resource Center is to remove small barriers like these and allow riders to use their bikes for longer periods of time.

Faculty and staff are encouraged to get involved in the program, either as clients or mechanics. Datema noted that the center is available to all members of campus, and he said additional mechanics always are welcome. 

“All of our mechanics are volunteers,” Datema said. “A lot of them this year have stopped by while we’re out on Lowry Mall and offered to help. The workshops themselves have been our best advertisement.”

Repairs are free to all members of the MU community. This is possible because of a $1 fee all students pay each semester. The money goes into a fund managed by Datema, which covers his salary and benefits, student workers and the organization’s supplies. These funds also pay for programs like the Bike Resource Center.

A key aspect of the Bike Resource Center’s mission is to teach campus cyclists how to repair bikes on their own. Datema, who often works as a mechanic during the workshops, says he and his colleagues will show customers what they’re doing so the rider knows how to fix the problem again. However, the weekly sessions cannot fix every problem. Most of the work consists of fixing flat tires and loose chains and adjusting brakes and derailleur gears.

“One thing about the Bike Resource Center is that we don’t have replacement parts; we only make adjustments. To have parts we would have to be a full-service bike shop.”

In addition to the regular fix-ups on campus, Datema coordinates the Bike Mechanics College, a five-week series of classes that was modeled from a similar PedNet program. Datema said registration information and cost details are still being worked out. His overall goal is to show the MU community the benefits of cycling.

“We want to facilitate bike riding as a mode of transportation on campus,” he said. “It offers environmental and health benefits, and also helps people economically because they don’t have to pay for gas. All of those factors are important to students, and I hope faculty and staff will take advantage of this opportunity as well.”

— Ryan Schmitz