Two wheels get you there just as well as four

  • View larger image

William Coleman hadn't ridden a bicycle since he was 12 years old. Now the Appalachian State University student rides all over campus and town.

"Most folks don't realize how efficient it is," said Coleman, a junior who hopped back on last summer through the Boone Bicycle Initiative. "It's saving me a lot of gas. My parents think this is awesome. They just tell me to wear a helmet."

The Boone Bicycle Initiative—a community-based organization started by Appalachian students—wants to get as many people commuting by bicycle as possible. Its goal: to improve air quality and lessen traffic surrounding the university and the Town of Boone.

So far, the Boone Bicycle Initiative and its long-term rental program have offset about 3,600 pounds of carbon dioxide according to the national Energy Information Administration.* Right now, about 50 students and community members participate in the rental program, which began in 2007 with a $10,000 grant from the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency's People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability. The grant paid for tools, tires and 11 new bicycles purchased at cost through local retailers, as well as odometers to study the bikes' carbon offset.

The number of bikes available for rental has increased significantly thanks to donations of money and used bikes from the community, and support from the Town of Boone, the university and local bike shops.

Students and community members can rent refurbished bikes for two months at a time with a $50 refundable cash deposit, or rent a new bike using a credit card and bring it in every two weeks for a maintenance check. All rentals include a helmet and lock.

"What we're finding is that people are renting for awhile and then buying their own bike because they like bicycle commuting so much. That's a good thing," says sophomore Alex Moody, a geology major from Virginia Beach, Va., who heads up the Boone Bike Initiative.

In addition to providing quality bicycles to the public, the Boone Bicycle Initiative:

  • works to educate people about bicycle safety and responsibility, including providing bicycle route maps for Boone
  • presents workshops and programs for the public, including collaboration with the local schools

The project's shop is located on King Street in the basement of the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts (map), a temporary location until a permanent home can be found by May 2009. The shop has become a social hangout for bike lovers and volunteer mechanics, like John Pertalion, an Appalachian employee who began renting in February 2008 for the seven-mile commute to work each morning. He put about 600 miles on his rental bike, then bought his own because he loved riding so much.

"These guys changed my life," said Pertalion, who has lost weight and increased his fitness as a result of his daily bicycle commute. "It's always good to save gas, but commuting by bike is fun to do and that's why I keep doing it."

Boone Bicycle Initiative hopes this kind of positive social, environmental and economic change happens with more and more people.

"The Town of Boone has been supportive, the school's been supportive. It's been great," said Alan Watts '08, who wrote the EPA grant proposal with fellow student Gabe Krieg in late 2006 while enrolled in Appalachian's appropriate technology program. "The project has been a success and we just need to keep it going."

* Based on estimated average of 21 mpg, and 19.564 lbs CO2 emitted per gallon of gasoline.