Wildcat Wheels – University of Kentucky

Once upon a time, 16th birthdays were marked by that rite of passage to freedom – the driver’s license. Today, more and more teens are getting around by bicycle,  either for financial or environmental reasons, or both. For many, these reasons are multiplied as they enter college. The cost of vehicle ownership for a college student is oftentimes prohibitive, while schools and student body associations are putting more emphasis on sustainability. The level of involvement varies from school to school, so we will showcase different programs on a regular basis, to spur discussion and inspire action.

Kicking off this series is the University of Kentucky and their  Wildcat Wheels Bike Repair Shop. Here’s a quick rundown of their services:

The “library” bicycles are available to students as well as faculty and staff, and are available to be checked out for a week or a semester. While the yellow  “Wildcat Wheels” bike are ones that were abandoned and then recycled by the bike shop volunteers, they also have a fleet of newer Giants. Options range from fully rigid to front suspension-equipped bikes, tandems (AKA “Date bikes”), and even unicycles. All of them include a lock, and many have baskets and racks.

Campus Bike Shop is equipped as well as any commercial shop, yet students  can roll right in and get assistance with repairs and maintenance on their own bikes.  They can also volunteer their time and learn valuable mechanical skills, while helping to support the school’s “Yellow Bike” program. One of two free air stations is located at the shop, and both have a placard with clear directions on properly inflating bicycle tires. The shop staff also presents a “Commuter Bicycling For Beginners” class that covers cycling fundamentals, safety, and maintenance basics, as well as a “Traveling Safety/Maintenance” workshop that provides students venturing off campus with the necessary skills to ride safely in traffic and conduct simple “on the spot” repairs. For the more ambitious cyclist, there are also “Build-A-Bike” workshops.

Wildcat Wheels bicycle ambulance on the move
Wildcat Wheels bicycle “ambulance” on the move

Their latest addition is a bicycle “ambulance” that is pedaled out to a fixed location each week, and offers free repair and maintenance services.  It’s also rolled out to random stops such as bikes racks around campus. Built on a custom frame, this fully self-contained portable shop can handle just about any repair necessary, and will also be used for maintenance clinics and riding skills workshops right at the residence halls. While patronizing this free service, cyclists can also pick up another freebie – a copy of the highly-acclaimed Bicycling Street Smarts: Riding Confidently, Legally and Safely booklet.

Overall, Wildcat Wheels offers a comprehensive (and enviable program) that could be the model for which other schools base their programs.

– Brian

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