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At the heart of campus, BicyCal opens its new ‘hub’

The student cooperative BicyCal showcased its new, centrally located, if humble, "hub" on Friday. The grand opening took place in a long-shuttered stairway connecting upper and lower Sproul Plaza, cleverly repurposed as a "peer-to-peer" bike-maintenance education center. The group aims to grow the campus's cycling culture, and sees the new center as a keystone to that effort.

Photo ops and spontaneous bike repairs were the order of business Nov. 19, as the student cooperative BicyCAL showcased its new, centrally located, if humble, hub. The grand opening took place in a long-shuttered stairway connecting upper and lower Sproul Plaza (the upper entrance located just behind the Golden Bear Center cafeteria), cleverly repurposed as a “peer-to-peer” bike-maintenance education center.

There, BicyCAL members with mechanical know-how will help campus cyclists keep their two-wheelers in working order — offering repairs and also, they emphasize, do-it-yourself information. Often, “folks don’t ride just because of basic repair issues” — say a flat tire or a cantankerous derailer — says Justin Wiley ’09, BicyCAL co-director. “There’s a huge need for bicycle maintenance and repair education on campus.”

“With a little more education, we can get more people stoked into riding bikes,” adds urban-studies major Tim Bolton of BicyCAL.

Under a rain-soaked awning at the shop’s upper entrance, fourth-year student Effie Rawlings did, in fact, look stoked, following a crash course in flat repair from Austin Andrews, a philosophy grad student and BicyCAL co-director. Rawlings had gotten the flat tire on her ride to campus from south Berkeley.

“By good fortune, the new shop was open, and Mr. Austin here taught me how to fix it!” beamed Rawlings. Now, to repair flats on the fly, she plans to carry “a tire thingy” (for prying the tire off the rim), a spare inner tube, and a portable air pump.

Bicycling, for many of the students and recent grads who make up BicyCAL, is a cheap form of transportion — and much more: a way to reduces one’s carbon footprint, get exercise, and promote livable cities. The group aims to grow the campus’s bicycling culture. Some of the basic building blocks are already in place, beginning with receptivity from those who study and work at Berkeley.

To meet growing interest in cycling, the campus last year installed some 650 new bike-parking spaces, according to Campus Bicycle Committee chair Greg Haet, an associate director at Environmental Health & Safety. The local area offers a number of bicycle lanes and bicycle boulevard options, Wiley notes, “tons of bike shops, and a new Bike Station [with secure bike parking] on Shattuck.” But “there’s still a lot of room for improvement,” he adds.

Down the road, BicyCAL hopes to create a campus bike-sharing program — something it piloted for more than a year with a $10,000 Big Ideas grant and a fleet of 20 bikes. For now, the new center is the priority. “We realized that a prerequisite to the success of bike share was to establish a central bike-repair station,” says Wiley. A $12,000 Green Initiative Fund grant helped make that possible.

“I searched all over campus, far and wide” for a space, recalls Wiley, and eventually noticed the staircase where one could imagine selling bike-safety gear on the lower level, doing repairs at the top, and storing tools on the landing in between.

Between that vision and Friday’s grand opening, BicyCAL had to jump many hurdles and work with many entities, including the campus fire marshal and police department, the ASUC Auxiliary, Capital Projects, and Risk Management. “I took ‘Campus Bureaucracy 101,'” Wiley says, “and the next year I took the grad-level course.”

For the remainder of fall semester, BicyCAL will offer free repairs and instruction at the center on Friday afternoons beginning at 11 a.m. Next semester, it will expand to three days a week, for a minimal joining fee (probably $10).