October 03, 2011 | Andrew Steiner

A student rides a bike.
Forty more students signed up for the semester loan than senate had bikes for.

Last fall, Calvin’s student senate launched a community bike project.

The yellow bicycles didn’t last long. Less than three weeks into the semester, 16 of student senate’s fleet of 22 community bikes were broken down, stolen or vandalized. Calvin’s campus safety officers were pulling bikes out of the seminary pond, off the roofs of the Science Building and the Spoelhof Fieldhouse—“One was way up in a tree,” patrol supervisor Ron Venneman remembered. “We don’t know how it got there.”

“We didn’t have any security system; we didn’t have any way to keep students accountable,” said Josiah Sinclair, student senate’s vice president of representation.

In addition to being mistreated, many of the bikes, which had been donated by a local church, were in less than optimal condition. Sinclair recalled picking up a bike on his way to class and pulling the handle bar right off the frame.

A fresh approach

This September, student senate launched its restructured community bike project. With funding from the student life division, student senate purchased 80 new road bikes, 50 for 24-hour loan and 30 for semester-long lease. The semester bikes were claimed immediately, with around 40 more students signing up for the program than senate had bikes for.

“We were surprised by the enthusiasm [the long-term] program generated,” said Sinclair, the current director of the program. “I don’t know if it was the American psyche—just wanting to own it? We’re considering buying more bikes because that program went so well.”

Student senate has made the new program membership-based, which they believe gives students a greater sense of responsibility for the bikes. After paying a fee of five dollars to join the short-term program, students can sign out a bike for 24-hour periods whenever they need one from four locations on campus—the student senate office, Hekman Library, the Spoelhof Fieldhouse and the Knollcrest East apartments. For $20, students are able to lease a bike for the entire semester.

Another major change was in the quality of the bikes themselves: “They’re beautiful to ride,” Sinclair said. Senate selected them because they perform as well for commuting to school as they do for six-hour quests on the weekends.

Meeting a need

The current program is the result of year of planning begun almost as soon as student senate had cleared away last year’s wreckage. Former senator Jacki Sikkema didn’t call the first attempt a failure: “You need that initial first one to figure out what works and what doesn’t. If we hadn’t had the first one, there’s no way we’d have known how it would go.”

Sikkema, former senator Andrew Luth and John Britton, associate dean of student development, formed a committee to research community bike-shares at other colleges, looking for a model that would be better suited for Calvin.

The committee determined that a successful bike-share would be a good thing for the school. Calvin has the highest number of out-of-state students of any college in Michigan, Britton said, nearly 50 percent, and for many of those students, transporting bikes to and from school isn’t an option. For those students, a community bike-share offers a way to explore the city of Grand Rapids.

Benefits for body, environment, culture

“In my opinion, this is the biggest project student senate has ever done,” Sinclair said. He views the bike program as a chance to promote sustainable practices, to encourage healthy lifestyles and to build a bridge for students between Calvin’s campus and the rest of Grand Rapids.

Since the new program was launched, the senate office has been bustling: “I love the chance to talk to students when they come in,” Sinclair said, though he conceded, “I don’t do a lot of homework in here.”

“There was a bit of a gamble inherent in this,” he said: “I think we’ve been vindicated in our gamble.”

Student senate thanks the following:

Glen Remelts, director of Hekman Library; Carla Moyer, Hekman’s circulation coordinator; Dan Wells, Hekman’s programmer analyst who adapted the library’s Evergreen program for use in tracking bike loans; and Shirley Hoogstra, vice president for student life, who secured the funding for the program.

Read more News & Stories.

Student cruises near the Fieldhouse

Two students and a bike

Josiah Sinclair, director of the bike-share

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