Keeping the Gears Turning
By Grant Scott-Goforth
MANY BIKE OWNERS have had their gears suddenly stopped shifting. It’s guaranteed to make you extra sweaty commuting to HSU’s hilly campus.
Brakes, gears, flat tires—they seem like daunting issues, but they’re often easy, cheap repairs that can be done on your own. Enter HSU’s Bicycle Learning Center (BLC), a student-run toolkit and brain trust. The center has been around for more than two decades, but had become neglected and was forced by drainage issues to move out of its old brightly painted, wood-paneled space behind Nelson Hall.
It closed for nearly a year before alumnus Rory Baker (’16, Environmental Management & Protection) led the charge to revive the center in 2015. It was relocated to a small workspace beneath the steps leading into the Recreation & Wellness Center. It’s now open for free, and judgment-free, bike advice.
Volunteers Emily McBride and Wyatt Kozelka call the new space the Harry Potter closet. It’s a cramped room with a slanted ceiling, but they’ve made the best of the small space, filling it with tools and spare parts. They’re there to help students make their bikes safer, easier, and more fun to ride.
“It’s intimidating,” McBride says, staring into a tangle of gears attached to a bike on a repair stand. Many people—especially those who rely on bikes as their only mode of transportation—will push through a worrisome noise or stop shifting when it’s not working right. But bike repair doesn’t have to be scary, she says.
McBride, an Environmental Management & Protection major, has been comfortable with bikes her entire life. Her parents are cyclists and McBride frequented a bike “kitchen” in San Luis Obispo before attending Humboldt State. Kozelka, an Environmental Science senior, worked at a bike shop in his native Palo Alto, and more recently for Pacific Outfitters. When his car broke down in 2013 he sold it and bought a bike. And then another. And another, and another. He likes the mechanical aspects of bikes.
Despite the hilly campus and community, geared bikes—with proper maintenance—make cycling around town for shopping and commuting relatively easy. Getting people to embrace biking should be easier, McBride says, in a small town where just about everyone knows at least one person with a car for those longer trips.
That’s a side lesson in the learning aspect of the center, and getting more students to use the Bicycle Learning Center is just one of the club’s challenges.
The center runs on student volunteers—Kozelka was doing 15 hours a week before other volunteers took over some hours. And while they can do homework between tune-up lessons, it’s a big commitment. Kozelka’s happy to do it for now. “Instead of going to the library I come here. It’s really appealing. It’s convenient, there’s no stress, it keeps me busy,” Kozelka says.
In addition to their time, Kozelka and McBride have donated or loaned some tools and other items to the center. But the club can’t afford to stock all the types of things needed for the dozens of different models and brands of bikes that students ride—nor could they store all those materials.
That’s why the focus is on learning.
Kozelka and McBride hope to maintain the Bicycle Learning Center’s momentum, encourage students to stop by, and expand the center’s involvement in bike-related activities. About five people a day stop in and ask questions. Often, when they’re on foot, they’ll wheel their bike in the next afternoon. Most of them need small repairs—a tightening of brake cables or some chain oil. Others need advice on more complex issues, such as fine-tuning a derailleur.
McBride envisions growing the center, and she’s been meeting with students and staff to discuss other bike programs, like group rides to acquaint people with cycling around town, and a potential “bike fair.”
Easy maintenance tips from the Bicycle Learning Center.
- Chain: Oil your chain regularly and cycle it through all the gears.
- Gears: If the gears aren’t shifting properly, it may require small tension adjustments to get back on track.
- Brakes: Brakes should align with the wheel rims and slow the bike without having to press too hard on the brake levers. The brake cables can be tightened at the brake calipers.
- Tires: Inflate to the recommended tire pressure printed on the tires.
- Safety: Yes, wear a helmet. And make sure you have operating lights when biking at night.