Bike lockers provide more options for commuters

Dec. 12, 2014

Craig Munier is a master of the quick change.

In a flash, he switches from his spandex biking outfit to his suit for work at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The reason he can do this: Outdoor Adventures Center and the expanded UNL Bike Shop.

"After an hour of intense cardio, I need the executive-style locker room to prepare for work," said Munier, director of Scholarships and Financial Aid. "I love the shower."

A locker room with 24/7 access is included in the monthly $25 fee for the 22 bike lockers offered by the center. The service, which began on May 8, allows commuters to safely store their bikes, protecting them from theft and weather. UNL is the second Big Ten university to offer the bike lockers, following Ohio State.

The bike lockers allow Munier to bike his 8-mile commute instead of driving his car.

"We're about transportation," said Jordan Messerer, assistant director of Outdoor Adventures.

The university received a silver-level award as a bike friendly campus in 2013, according to the League of Bike Friendly America. UNL is one of only three Big Ten universities to earn silver; the University of Maryland received gold.

The UNL Bike Shop and its services helped the university earn that bike friendly rating. The bike shop's mission of promoting bicycles on the UNL campus has led to significant success since the shop's opening in 2003. From that year to 2013, bicycling doubled on campus, according to bike counts conducted by UNL Landscaping Services. Assistant Director Eileen Bergt said in 2003, there were 929 bikes and in 2013, the office counted 1,887.

The bike shop employs innovative programs to encourage more bikes on campus. The bike lockers "answered a need to provide more options," Messerer said. The program benefits higher-end commuters like Munier who would like to commute but needed expanded facilities to do so.

Munier described his bike as "too high tech to be left outside." The $5,000 road bike has many expensive features, such as a $350 seat and $600 wheels that couldn't be properly secured on a bike rack.

Although the recent cold weather has prevented Munier from using his bike, he would bring enough suits for the week and swap the previous week's clothes each Sunday after church.

When Munier did bike in difficult weather including blizzards and tornado warnings, he said it is an exhilarating.

"It was an adventure," Munier said. "I was Indiana Jones, battling the elements."

Currently, only four bike lockers are rented. In addition to the seasonal decrease with bike commuting, Messerer said the bike lockers aren't well known yet.

Maria Antonia Garcia de la Torre is a UNL graduate teaching assistant of Spanish who has commuted by bike since 2012. Although she has used the bike shop for repairs to her bike, her reason for not using a bike locker is simple.

"I don't know what a bike locker is," Garcia de la Torre said.

According to Messerer, programs usually take a 4-year cycle to gain popularity.

The bike shop's more visible location at 930 N. 14th St. and increased space could also lead to more rented bike lockers.

The Outdoor Adventures Center "is great," said Kyle Hansen, coordinator for Outdoor Recreation. "It's such a rejuvenating experience to have a facility that matches what we wanted to do in the old space."

The shop offers a semester-long bike rental for $79. Although the bike shop added 20 rental bikes to its fleet this year, the 45 single-speed bikes were rented out by the second day of the semester.

"This year is the first year that we've had all the bikes rented out that quickly," Hansen said.

The bike shop has six bike stands, allowing the student mechanics the space and resources to fix the bikes quickly.

"Students are running and delivering the services that we offer," Hansen said. He expects more students will use the bike shop in the Outdoor Adventures Center. The bike shop helped 3,200 customers and replaced 1,029 tire tubes in 2013.

In addition to the bike shop, the center offers a climbing wall and classroom space, which Messerer plans to use to offer more bike-safety classes and workshops.

"The bike shop will continue to grow by providing services that aren't as highlighted by other bike shops," he said.

Safety is the No. 1 reason more people don't bike, according to Messerer. He said some people are concerned about the conflict between bicyclists and drivers. However, Messerer often reminds people that they are just using different methods for the same activity.

Drivers and bikers "have a destination they want to get to safely," Messerer said. By staying calm and following the rules of the road, Messerer said both parties can achieve that goal.

The UNL Bike Shop is not the only group on campus providing bike services. Bike UNL is a registered student organization that works with Outdoor Adventures.

Ben Eigbrett is president of Bike UNL and also a mechanic at the bike shop.

"I like helping people (in the bike shop) and seeing people go from knowing nothing to changing their own tires," Eigbrett said. The group works to provide more education on bicycling and gathers important information for bicyclists on the Bike UNL website.

To fund the Bike UNL's mission to improve cycling on campus, the group began offering a free-donation bike valet during home football games and Jazz in June. The donations have funded a couple of bike pumps and fix-it stations around campus, including one by the Scott Engineering Center.

Another project Bike UNL is addressing is the bike racks on campus.

"(UNL) does have a lot of bike racks outside of buildings," Eigbrett said. However, the traditional bike racks can damage people's bikes, according to Eigbrett. It is common for students to come in to the bike shop with bent wheels, which cost $60.

The group notified university officials who are replacing the old racks with the upside down U-shaped bike racks, which are better for the bikes.

Eigbrett, who is a fifth-year senior, has biked to campus since his freshmen year. That year he lived 30 miles away, but he would drive to SouthPointe Pavilions, park his car and bike the remaining 6 miles to campus.

Biking is "almost as fast as a car, especially on campus," Eigbrett said. The mechanical engineering and environmental studies major also appreciates the "green" aspect of biking.

Munier said the advantages of biking are huge.

"We feel better," he said. "Bicycling reduces stress, makes happier people, and reduces carbon footprint." According to Munier, the time cost of 20 minutes is worth receiving an hour of exercise.

Although Munier will be moving to Washington, D.C., to work for the federal education department, he said he hopes more UNL employees consider the health benefits of bicycling.

"I am confident that if our faculty and staff remained more active, our healthcare costs would drop," 60-year-old Munier said.

In addition to helping his body stay young, biking helps Munier connect to his youthful emotions.

"When I first got back on a bike as an adult 20 years ago, I felt my inner child being just thrilled about being on a bike again," he said.

Although Munier was only able to use the bike lockers for less than a year, he said he enjoyed using the facilities to ride his bike to work.

"I think, my God, I could've missed this," Munier said. "Things are clicking. I feel good."