A biking culture is beginning to roll at Alverno College. In August 2012 – with just a need, a vision and four abandoned bikes – Alverno College started a Bike Exchange Program.

Lynn Kuhlman (right) is pictured with Jon Sison from Wheel & Sprocket during a special reception, celebrating the company’s donation of eight bikes to the Bike Exchange.

Like most innovations at the College, it started with the students. “They were looking for a way to get off campus,” Lynn Kuhlman said referring to the responses on the residential student survey indicating a need for transportation. Kuhlman, a 2010 Alverno graduate and the manager of residential life operations, likes to problem solve – now she had an opportunity with few resources.

Alverno’s resident student population is 230, of which about 9 percent are international students. “Most of our international students come from biking cultures,” she said. “Alverno is a good biking distance from 27th Street where there are stores, food and employment opportunities.”  Kuhlman had four bikes that had been abandoned by students. It was a start.

Other college campuses have bike exchange programs, but Kuhlman wanted the program to work for Alverno students. “A colleague’s husband refurbished the four bikes,” she said referring to the process as “up cycling.” The entire program is driven by donations and volunteer efforts.

The program was rolled out to the residents at the ‘All Hall’ meeting last August. The system is simple: Students request a bike at the customer service desk in Austin Hall, check availability, show their student ID, sign a waiver form and get a bike, lock and helmet. If a bike is lost or stolen, there is a $100 assessed fee. On average students check out bikes for two hours to run errands or enjoy a ride, or longer, if needed, for a work shift. Students can sign out bikes for up to 24 consecutive hours as often as they like.

The program was an instant hit. In the first month, bikes were signed out 100 times. Since then, the program has grown to meet the increasing need. “We’ve received bikes and donations from faculty and staff,” Kuhlman said. Funds received for the program go toward lights, locks and parts for repairs. All bikes go through a checklist for safety and maintenance.

Kuhlman, an avid rider for years, was in Wheel and Sprocket’s Brookfield store shortly after the program started looking for another bike for her use. “As a cyclist, the equation is always n+1. ‘N’ being the number of bikes you own,” she said with a laugh. She started to tell Jon Sison, assistant manager of Wheel and Sprocket, about Alverno’s Bike Exchange program. “He was very excited about it. Wheel and Sprocket is involved in encouraging women to bike.”

“This is part of our outreach in the community,” Sison said. “It’s a good cause. We want a healthy community. Women are riders, commuters, triathletes. Cultural and gender diversity in the biking community is a great goal.”

Wheel and Sprocket has donated refurbished bikes and has been involved in Alverno’s Wellness Fair by donating helmets and light sets. After this year’s Wheel and Sprocket Bike fair where customers traded in old bikes on the purchase of a new one, Sison called Kuhlman to tell her he had eight bikes ready to donate to the Exchange. “Just like that we had doubled our program,” she said.

Campuses all over the country have bike program – some structured, some with a “take one if you need one” approach. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s bike program is fee-based for use by the semester. Ripon College partnered with Trek as a part of students pledging not to bring cars to campus. “Now the program is based in service work,” Kuhlman said.

The benefits of riding are numerous, Kuhlman said. “There’s the health benefit. It’s a great stress reliever. It’s social. Our domestic and international students have found a common interest. It’s economical with no fuel or insurance costs. And, of course, it’s environmentally friendly.”

“Our goal is to have a small number of bikes serving the largest number of students,” Kuhlman said. Currently the program has 16 bikes. Wheel and Sprocket has made another donation of extremely high-quality road bikes.

Most students who participate are frequent riders. Students use them to run errands, to go for a bite to eat, to get back and forth to a job or just to get away from campus. Devon Gorman, a student athlete, is in the nursing program and is a frequent rider in the Exchange using the bikes to run errands and hang out with friends. “There are some really beautiful trails around Milwaukee that I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of if it weren’t for the use of a bike,” she said. “It allows me to see places of Milwaukee that I would not have noticed before.”

Ultimately, Kuhlman would like to build a strong biking culture at Alverno outside of the Bike Exchange. “Many of our students live within comfortable riding distance; and we have some faculty and staff biking to campus.” Kuhlman being one of them. “I try to bike to campus every month of the year.”

Kuhlman sends out announcements about campus cycling news to fellow riders. There are plans to organize bike rides for fundraisers; and currently Alverno faculty and staff plan to partner with the Boys and Girls Club of Milwaukee for a ride in August.

The Bike Exchange Program is accepting quality bikes and donations for refurbishing efforts. Contact Lynn Kuhlman, 414-382-6372.