The Dalhousie Bike Centre's Peter Rogers, left, and volunteer Conrad Koziol. Photo: Mark Teo

Dal Bike Centre a “community of cyclists sharing knowledge”

Month old drop-in centre becoming the hub of Dal’s cycling culture.

Dalhousie's Bike Centre - a scant month old - doesn't look like much. Tucked away in a corner of Dal's Studley Gym, it's a space the size of a dorm bedroom, its walls painted with an autumn cycling scene. There are two bicycle stands, a wheel repair stand and a table with neatly arranged wrenches, screwdrivers and an assortment of bike tools.

This afternoon, two cyclists are repairing their bikes. Peter Rogers, the centre's keeper and a Dalhousie urban planning student, sits in a corner by his laptop computer.

Rogers describes the quaint space as the future hub of Dal's cycling community.

"It's not just about fixing bikes," he says. "It's a community of cyclists sharing knowledge to create more of a cycling culture at Dal."

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The bike centre's tool kit. Photo: Mark Teo

And the centre, like cycling-based projects at the universities of Waterloo, British Columbia and Concordia, has grown dramatically since its inception. Since it opened on Oct. 8, the centre's staff - originally just Rogers - has expanded to eight volunteer members. Initially, the centre could only afford 12 staffed hours per week, but it's since doubled its amount of open hours.

"The response has been phenomenal," said Rogers. "And most cyclists on campus don't even know we're here yet."

Rogers estimates between 25 to 40 cyclists use the centre on a weekly basis, although the centre has not been well advertised. It's a drop-in centre for those who encounter problems on their daily commute.

"You never schedule your bike emergencies," he chuckles. "You'd like to postpone those times."

And so far, Dal cyclists approve of the program.

"It's great," said centre drop-in and Dalhousie business professor Dan Lynch. "Anything you can do to foster people to ride, fix up their bike and be safer makes a lot of sense."

Centre inclusive and self-sustaining

Statistics Canada reports that roughly 2,000 Haligonians go to work on bike - about one per cent of the city's daily commuters. That's on par with Toronto's cycling commuters, but slightly below cities such as Vancouver and Montreal.

Scott MacPhee, a spokesperson for non-profit environmental organization Clean Nova Scotia, says that the centre will help cycling be more inclusive for student cyclists. He says increasing the number of functioning bikes will increase the amount of commuters in Halifax.

"It's about teaching people to work on their bikes," said MacPhee. "Take your bike to Cyclesmith, and they'll fix your bike for x amount of money. Some students don't have that money."

The centre originated as a project developed between the university's athletics department, SustainDAL and Clean Nova Scotia. Together, they made an initial investment of $10,000 in the bike centre to pay for labour, the space and tools.

And while the centre doesn't have long-term funding, Rogers says that it will sell select bike parts, accept donations and set up affordable membership fees.

"We don't really need much," says Rogers. "We'll hopefully be able to be self-sustaining."

Winter and beyond

Alongside bike repairs, the centre now offers a weekly bike maintenance workshop and organized weekend group bike rides. They're also providing a winter cycling safety workshop, designed to prepare cyclists for any riding conditions.

"You need to teach people how to ride in the wintertime," MacPhee said, noting that some are intimidated by cycling in cold weather. "People see others on the road, and they're more comfortable with riding."

The backers of the bike centre are also extending their scope beyond the Studley campus. They're working on a bike share program connecting all three Dal campuses similar to Montreal's Bixi program.

SustainDAL estimates the cost of the program to be around $150,000, with each campus location maintaining a hub where students could borrow and drop off rented bicycles. Each campus would require a fleet of bikes and a sheltered, secure place to store them.

"(Dal's) president was really enthused about the program," said MacPhee. "Until he learned that each hub cost $50,000."

Nonetheless, they are working to have the program in place by next fall and hope it introduces new members into Halifax's cycling community.

"One thing I love about the cycling community is that it is inclusive," said MacPhee. "All you need is a bike."

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