Cyclab reopens under Rocky Private Dining Room
Rockefeller College has sponsored the reopening of the Cyclab, a student-run bicycle cooperative designed to provide cyclists of any level with the skills and tools necessary to repair their bikes. The co-op, located under the Rocky Private Dining Room and accessible via the loading dock ramp on University Place, holds open hours every Tuesday and Sunday, from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., respectively.
The Cyclab shut the doors of its old location at 130 University Place last fall after six years of operation following the University’s request to the student cooperative and its partner organization U-Bikes to vacate the building in order to make way for the construction of the new Arts and Transit Neighborhood.
The Cyclab began offering “open hours” on March 26, according to the organization's website. The volunteer student mechanics will also host a grand opening event on April 14 during its normal hours.
“Anyone can come now. We’re open now,” David Hocker GS, a fourth year graduate student and one of the four members of the Cyclab’s management team, explained. “We wanted to do something a little bit softer to get a handle on what we’re missing. We just opened a new space, so we know we’re going to be missing parts.”
Dean Oliver Avens of Rockefeller College originally contacted the University’s cycling team and emailed Anthony Cross GS, a fifth year graduate student who volunteered as a mechanic in the original Cyclab and now serves as a member of the management team, to offer to sponsor the co-op last September after he learned that the organization had closed.
“I like the idea of Rocky being a center for student-initiated projects that don’t necessarily only involve Rocky students,” Avens said on his motivation to sponsor the initiative. “Historically, we’ve had a model of reaching out to students who are interested in projects and providing them with space and, in some cases, funding.”
The Cyclab has moved into an old storage room that the construction crews that renovated the residential colleges about five years ago used as their base of operation, according to Avens.
“It was really fortunate that we got sponsored by Rocky College because they were able to provide us with the funds for new tools and bike racks,” another mechanic overseeing the management of the co-op Paul Paulauskas ’13 said. “It worked out very well because we got the funds and the space at the same time.”
The Cyclab originally fell under the purview of the Office of Sustainability, along with U-Bikes, an initiative originally created to reclaim bikes abandoned on campus over the summer and rent them to students during the following academic year. The two organizations shared a location in the parking lot next to Wawa and some of the tools that both groups needed to repair bicycles.
According to Paulauskas, administrators in the Office of Sustainability withdrew their support from the Cyclab because they worried its donation-based business model might cause problems in preparing the University’s taxes. U-Bikes, now a Princeton Student Agency, kept the old location and the tools.
But The Daily Princetonian reported in November that the University asked both Cyclab and U-Bikes to leave the building in anticipation of construction for the Arts and Transit Neighborhood in the spring of 2011. Once U-Bikes took possession of the tools that it had previously shared with Cyclab and moved out of the old space at 130 University Place, Cyclab decided to close, the article reported.
Under the Cyclab’s previous system, students would pay for the parts they used in repairing their bikes, which were priced at the cost that the organization bought them, but the volunteer mechanics also asked for donations to purchase more supplies for the co-op, Hocker explained.
With Rocky as its new sponsor, the Cyclab has discontinued charging students for parts altogether. Instead, the college will subsidize the program completely.
“We looked at the costs of consumables, so the basic things to get a bike going — new tire tubes or chain or cables,” Avens said. “We’ll see what the overall costs will be, but we thought for the purposes of starting this up that we would simply run it as a purely non-monetary, nonprofit venture.”
In light of the Cyclab’s recent opening, an estimation of its annual costs is difficult, but Rockefeller College has already bought a new set of tools for the mechanics and ordered an initial stock of consumables for under $1,000, according to Avens.
“We’ll see how long that lasts, but that’s not a huge figure, considering what we spend on a study break,” Avens noted. The college has arranged to receive discounted pricing on the consumables they order by purchasing them in bulk.
Other resources that students can use to fix their bikes on campus include tool kits in some of the residential colleges and a repair stand behind Frist Campus Center sponsored by the USG. “For some extensive repair, I don’t know if there are many spaces on campus anymore,” Hocker said. “But Rocky will really fill that niche, I hope.”
The Cyclab will maintain its previous goal of teaching cyclists how to repair their own bikes with the help of the volunteer mechanics on staff. “We’re still teaching people. We still operate as a co-op,” Paulauskas explained. “Instead of people coming in and having us fix their bikes, we teach them and help them through the process of fixing the bicycle.”
The organization previously retained a staff of more than 20 volunteer mechanics, according to Hocker, and the management team continues to encourage any new mechanics to join, regardless of their level of experience.
“The hope is that we would get a collective of people who would come in and give it a few hours a month,” Hocker added. “Exposure is really what makes you learn. I don’t think I could really explain how to fix a flat tire until I taught a seven-year-old girl, and she did it better than anyone else.”
Although the Cyclab used to host collective group rides, bicycle education classes and an annual mini-bike race called FNA, the management team will presently focus on renewing its function as a bicycle repair shop.
“We want students to use this because that’s how it’s going to survive,” Hocker explained. “The more kids that want to play with their bikes, the longer we can stay open.”