The Pedal Project: build a bike and ride

I had a fabulous opportunity last week to be a part of the inaugural Pedal Project.  This is a program the UO Office of Sustainability put on for incoming students, one of several such programs.

The program had an ambitious plan, and I was nervous about it.  The idea was to bring in some students who had never worked on or even thought all that much about bicycles before and have them build up bikes from scratch.  They would then use these bikes they had built to navigate around Eugene and get an introduction to urban transportation issues related to sustainability.  Finally, they would ride those bikes a few dozen miles to an overnight camping spot.  All of this would take place over four days.

Now, I put bikes together.  It’s not especially challenging.  The parts are, in general, made to fit together; you just need to have the right parts.  But I am a supergeek, and most of my time is spent thinking about these things.  I was a supergeek about bikes for quite a while before I actually put together my first bike.  That “build” was certainly not my first time working on bikes or using bike tools.  For these students, it would be a bit of a rude introduction.

And then a bike camping trip? Even people in Eugene who ride bikes around town quite a bit scoff (too much, methinks) at the thought of using them for recreation, or to ride any strenuous distance.  How would these students react?  Would the bikes even survive the trip?  Would the general scuffle with logging trucks and debris-in-the-shoulder and rolling hills that is the greater Eugene area riding environment forever scar these folks and keep them off of bikes?  Usually these things have to be eased into.

Clearly, we were all but doomed to fail.

And yet…

The students took bikes that had been donated to the UO Bike Program by Lane Transit District or the Eugene Police department and set to work stripping off their old components and building them up as single speed mountain bikes with coaster brakes.  That’s the standard setup the Bike Program uses for its long term bike loan service (with which students can check out a bike for $15 per term for up to three terms) because it yields a reliable bicycle that doesn’t take much maintenance to keep going.

They set to work for a day and a half attaching all the necessary parts; rear coaster wheels, chains, seatposts and saddles, grips, front brakes, fenders, single-speed cranksets, bells, racks with baskets, pedals, and magnetic generator lights.  I buzzed around with some direction and teaching, but make no mistake; the students assembled these bikes themselves, from scratch.  They came together with a motley but oddly unified look that I really like.

They built these bikes, rode them around town a bit on a scavenger hunt, and the very next day loaded them up for an overnight bike tour.  Now, I am very willing to claim, in full ignorance of whether the statement is true or not, that this is the first time ever in the history of our wet and spinning world that humans have assembled their very first ever bike that they’ve ever worked on and then immediately ridden that same bike on an overnight loaded bike tour.  First time.  Ever.  No big deal.

Okay, yes, Shelley and I pulled trailers with some of the gear and food. Here’s my own bike loaded up for the adventure (in solidarity, I went single-speed as well).

We headed out the Fern Ridge bike path through West Eugene, on our way to Fern Ridge reservoir to camp.

It was a very hot day, and I’m not going to say there wasn’t any grumbling or dehydration, but in general the mood was high.  Empowered.  Kickass.

We were on some busy roads too, and went over some hills.  We survived.  Thrived, even.  We made it to our camp site at Richardson State Park and got situated.

The bikes performed very well, by the way.  None of them completely disintegrated on the ride, a testament to the care the students put into creating them.  True, we had a few wheels rubbing frames (quickly corrected), but we didn’t even have any flat tires.  Once camp was established, we headed down to the balmy waters of Fern Ridge for a soak.  It was an OK evening aesthetically:

We ate some burritos with quinoa (an unfamiliar foodstuff for most of the students) and told some ghost stories and went to sleep.  Shelley and I didn’t have a tent and inexplicably got rained on blah blah blah and soon it was morning and we packed up the bikes and headed back to campus.

Here is a link to our whole route, though you should note that I had to fight with Google Maps a bit and the real milage is around 38 (at the end point “B” there we really just got back on the bike path and rode back to the start).  On the way back we used the course of the Eugene Roubaix road race, traversing the gravel section and struggling up the little hill on Cantrell rd with our single-speeds.  Here’s the group coming to the end of the mean, mean gravel:

We got back to Eugene a little bit overheated but satisfied, I think, with our effort.  I’m not going to say there wasn’t some grumbling about butt pain, but everyone marveled just a bit, just enough, over what we had accomplished.  Before leaving town, the students donated their bikes to the UO Bike Program, so that they can be loaned out and used for centuries or even millennia to come.  The students will be back to move into student housing next month.  I’m not too worried about this group.

So there you have it.  For the first time in the history of our oscillating, dark-matter-filled universe, five folks who didn’t initially necessarily give a crap about bikes built some anyway and then immediately went on the kind of adventure that a lot of other folks might think is crazy to undertake.  For my part, I had a total blast.

I haven’t described the whole program: The students also got tours at the Center for Appropriate Transport, Bike Friday, Arcimoto (most fun test drive of my life, thanks guys), and UO Campus Recycling, and had a good time discussing the disturbing yet excellent Who Killed the Electric Car? With the bikes and the camping trip, that’s an awful lot for four days.

Next post: a despicable geek-out about the Euro-inspired upgrades I have made to my commuter bike, complete with many bikepornographic shallow depth-of-field close up shots.  Mmmmmmmmmmm.  Stay tuned.