Rentals, repairs and more at the bike co-op

Dominic Portelli, Staff Writer

Tucked away in a forgotten corner of campus, a muggy, unfinished basement room is littered with tools, grease and dilapidated bicycles.

Two green sandwich boards along Carrigan Drive guide students into Hills Agricultural Sciences’ parking lot entrance where they find UVM Bikes, a volunteer bike shop run entirely by students.
Dominic Portelli

Staff is there from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, ready to help anyone who walks through the door with anything from changing a flat or adjusting brakes on a campus bike, to overhauling a mountain bike for a day on the trails.

The co-op also allows students to rent bicycles for the entirety of the school year.

“The last two years we’ve had more rental bikes than ever,” co-op president Connor Smith, a senior, said.

As a result, the University granted the co-op a workspace extension this past summer. The co-op has almost tripled in size, co-op’s vice president, Luke Knisley, a senior, said.

After being shut down seven years ago due to overcrowding in its original location at the Davis Center loading dock, the co-op disappeared from campus.

Since its rebirth nearly five years ago, UVM Bikes has continued to grow driven by a few passionate students and faculty. This year’s expansion was met with increased structure, including the creation of club officers.

“Before, [we were] devoting time to making sure there was a staff here,” Smith said. “Now we have the time and resources so that we can do other things that just improve the experience.”

Operating on a basis of free labor and wholesale parts pricing, volunteers work several hours a week without any form of payment. Smith and fellow volunteer and Ethan White, a junior, said there’s something else that keeps them coming back to help.

“When I first started working here, it was kind of terrifying because I didn’t know much about working on bikes, and yet I still kept coming back,” Smith said. “It was something about just learning something every time you’re here.”

Volunteers are often happy to teach anyone who wants to learn, be it a student getting their bike fixed or a faculty member on lunch break.

“I don’t get many chances to teach people, but this is definitely one of those chances,” White said. “It’s very satisfying to share.”

Members of the co-op have learned not everyone wants to get their start as an amateur bike mechanic.

“At the end of the day, we can only be here,” Smith said. “We can’t force people to learn.”

Such self-selection of engagement plays a crucial role in the co-op.

“In a day full of chaos of being a college student, to be able to fix something, or at least make something better, is really cool, and that’s why I think this space attracts a lot of similar people,” Smith said. “Not everybody is interested, but when we do get that one person that is, it’s really cool.”

While renovations have transformed and improved the way the co-op operates, its culture holds strong.

“It’s about fun and providing kind of a family,” Smith said. “It offers a comfortable space to feel connected on campus.”