ReCycle Bike Encourages Sustainable Transportation

ReCycle Bike Distribution Chalkboard Sign

The sun begins to set over the Mendenhall building. It is the evening of reCycle Bike’s spring distribution event, and there are bicycles everywhere. People are shuffling amongst them, inspecting their dimensions and occasionally taking one for a test ride. There’s a line to receive a bicycle. There seems to be another line meant for the handling and completion of paperwork, and another line for the helmets, locks and lights.

Five years ago, reCycle Bike’s semester distribution events looked quite different. Less students, less bicycles. Nowadays, students are lining up for over an hour before the event begins, in hopes to get their hands on a bicycle which will be theirs for the entirety of the semester.

The reCycle Bike distribution event is a program associated with Sustainable Campus, an organization which seeks to “educate and engage students, staff, and faculty to set an example of campus sustainability and position FSU as a leader of environmental and social action.” reCycle Bike is just one of Sustainable Campus’ many programs which help educate and engage Florida State students to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.

Choosing to bike instead of drive requires extra effort on behalf of students who feel their days are sufficiently challenging enough. As a result, encouraging students to take extra time out of their busy lives to develop sustainable habits can be a challenging task. Sustainable Campus’ program coordinator Jamie Valentine looks forward to this challenge.

“Students are extremely busy and inundated by a lot of new information,” Valentine says, “but that aspect is exciting, since they are in a dynamic space where they constantly learn and engage with the world around them.”

Through cycling, the reCycle Bike program enhances students’ experience learning and engaging with the dynamic space that is Florida State. The concept of the program is simple: to provide Florida State students with a clean form of transportation at a nominal cost. Any student enrolled at Florida State can rent a bicycle equipped with front and rear lights, a locking system and a helmet, all for roughly $60. Also added in the rental is a lifetime membership to Bike Eat Shop Tallahassee (B.E.S.T.), a partnership between cyclists and local businesses which offers discounts to patrons who wear helmets donning a B.E.S.T. sticker.

Included in the program are various safety courses, maintenance workshops and social events. One of the more notable weekly events is the Cafe Ride, where reCycle members meet at the Integration Statue and ride to coffee shops and cafes around town. Cafe Rides are intended to help novice cyclists develop comfort on the road, support local businesses and grow accustomed to venturing outside of campus to explore the city.

Bicycling on a daily basis can have profound effects on students’ physical and mental health. A study done on three large Dutch organizations found that employees who regularly bike to work have less sick-related absences than their non-cycling colleagues. In a fourteen-year study taking place in Copenhagen, researchers found that employees who choose to bike to work were 40% less likely to die during the study than those who did not.

During a time when twenty-something-year-olds are defined by information overload and a dwindling sense of face-to-face communication, reCycle Bike encourages students to look up and restore a sense of connectivity with the world around them. International student Rabeb Jaouadi chooses to ride a bicycle because she prefers the convenience it provides.

“Campuses here in the United States are much bigger than those in [Tunisia],” Jaouadi says. “Bikes allow accessibility to everywhere I want to go.”

Rose, an international student from Holland, turned to reCycle Bike in order to fulfill the lack of reliable and efficient public transportation around campus and the surrounding areas.

“Nobody in the Netherlands has a car because the public transportation system is really great,” Rose says. “The buses drive frequently and are reliable for the most part, and there are bicycle lanes everywhere.”

“The buses at Florida State are less popular because the system is not very reliable, so people drive to campus when they don’t need to,” Rose concludes.

Other students choose to cycle simply for the pleasure it brings.

“Self-enjoyment is one of the many reasons why I ride a bike,” Florida State student Brendan Rempert says. “There is nothing like going down hills and carving around campus-- it’s pretty fun.”

And for some students, cycling has changed their way of living.

Amidst the sea of bicycles at the reCycle Bike spring distribution event, program coordinator Beth Burford is busy inspecting rentals and attending to various renters’ needs. Burford’s dedication to the program is felt, and her knowledge of bicycles and cycling is comprehensive. Her passion for the activity made her a natural candidate to spearhead the program, which she was immediately drawn to upon hearing about it for the first time.

“I ride a bike every day, and will go car-less for life,” Burford says, “so I was pumped when I first learned about reCycle Bike.”

Burford is enthusiastic toward the bustling bicycle culture at Florida State University, and she believes reCycle Bike will grow larger as the semesters continue. She hopes to expand the program beyond just bike rentals, with plans to organize multiple safety instructional courses. Recently, some of her ambitions within reCycle Bike needed to be put on hold due to a cycling accident.

Last semester, Beth Burford was hit on her bicycle by a distracted student. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and is still in the process of recovering. Many people tend to shy away from the activities which bring them closer to death, but not Burford. Her experience getting hit by a car has only strengthened her passion for cycling and improving the reCycle Bike program. “If anything, I ride my bike more now,” Burford says.

This spring semester, Burford is moving forward with more workshops and clinics than ever before. “The accident has encouraged me to focus my efforts on hosting more bicycle safety classes, teaching people how properly maneuver in real time scenarios,” Burford explains. “We’re going to have several programs this time around, including maintenance workshops and bicycle handling clinics.”

Burford hopes such programs will provide reCycle Bike members with invaluable information that will help them become more knowledgeable riders. Additionally, she anticipates the programs will encourage weary riders to develop comfort when riding on the road, as opposed to the sidewalk, which can actually be more dangerous.

The concept of cycling on the road is intimidating to many, and for good reason. As a cyclist on the road, one must abide by all the rules of traffic as if they were a regular motorist. While the motorist sits inside two tons of steel, cushioning and airbags, a cyclists’ best-- and usually only-- protection is their helmet. Many people argue how, for these reasons, road cycling is inherently dangerous. Burford disagrees.

“Biking is not inherently dangerous,” she explains. “Cars going over 25 mph with drivers distracted on their phones, windows up, blasting music… now that’s dangerous.”

One of the most crucial skills Burford has learned over the years? Communication with drivers and other riders on the road-- specifically, eye contact. But this proves difficult when drivers are distractedly speeding around campus, eyes peering for brief durations down toward their phones. Distracted driving is especially problematic in Florida. In 2014, the state alone accounted for 7% of all the distracted driving incidents resulting in fatalities throughout the country, and nearly 9% of all the distracted driving incidents resulting in injuries (statistic accounts for both injuries and possible injuries).[1] What’s more, drivers in their twenties account for 38% of the distracted drivers who were using cell phones in fatal crashes.

As a bicycle-friendly campus, Florida State University has been given a ‘silver level’ grade, or the second tier in four-tiered system which is overseen by the League of American Bicyclists. Aside from the efforts of individuals like Burford, the city of Tallahassee is taking steps in the right direction to secure both the campus and city as a more progressive location for bicycle commuters. The recent addition of protected bicycle lanes in the immediate downtown area, paired with the cycling decals found painted on the streets, suggest Tallahassee’s willingness to incorporate cycling into the city’s transportation infrastructure.

reCycle Bike seeks to provide bicycles to as many Florida State students as possible. Furthermore, the program aims to promote more safe, comfortable, and enjoyable riding throughout the city. It is a vision Burford hopes to see come into fruition. “The more people riding their bikes in Tallahassee, the safer and better the conditions will become for the whole community,” she says.

With Burford’s passion for bicycles, the cycling community and the program, the future for reCycle Bike looks promising. “Bicycles have the power to change how we live,” she explains. “The activity itself has many positive implications-- the combatting of climate change... helping to secure environmental justice, just to name a couple.”

“Bicycling is also empowering-- physically, mentally, and even socially. You can connect more with nature, people and yourself,” Burford concludes.

As reCycle Bike’s spring distribution event slowly wound down, students mingled together while sitting atop their newly rented bikes. One group of students who were speaking to each other in French all began pointed toward the sky. It was the rising full moon, which appeared enormous and golden, juxtaposed against the brick-laden smokestack protruding into the sky. In a brief moment, the group of students began to pedal, heads pointed toward the moon, turning the corner, their voices slowly trailing off as they cycled somewhere into the distant shadows of campus.

[1] calculated using these two sources: