New Brunswick Bike Exchange medium to bring affordable fitness to students, community
Although Rutgers alumna Aimee Jefferson has had her driver’s license for more than a decade, she has never owned a car. Instead, she relies on bicycling as her preferred mode of transportation. When she heard about the New Brunswick Bike Exchange program, the avid cycling enthusiast immediately jumped on board.
The NBBE is a program that collects and refurbishes donated bicycles, Jefferson said, which are then sold at a discounted price. The proceeds from sales are sent to the Puerto Rican Action Board, a group that uses the proceeds to fund community programming.
Leighann Kimber, director of the program, said the mission of the NBBE is to ultimately provide equitable transportation. The program aims to serve people who cannot afford a car, a transit pass or a bike at retail price.
The Bike Exchange sells bicycles in good condition at up to 50 percent off the original retail price and adult bikes don’t exceed a price tag of $100, Kimber said. Child bikes are sold around $10 in an effort to “see a kid happy to take a bicycle home.”
“If someone comes in and says ‘I only have $20,’ that’s fine,” she said. “We want to empower people to be able to purchase it themselves, which is one reason we don’t give [the bikes] away for free.”
Jefferson believes every aspect of the NNBE is beneficial to the community, from providing affordable transportation options, saving bikes from dusty garages and landfills and generating money for PRAB’s programming.
“For a while I made the decision to bike based on financial reasons, but it has since evolved into an environmental, health and social issue now, too,” she said. “There are a lot of other people who bike or want to bike for the same reasons.”
The NBBE is part of a family of Bike Exchanges located throughout the state, in Trenton, Newark and Plainfield, Jefferson said.
Since the inception of the NBBE in May 2013, the program has donated more than $9,000 to PRAB and sold more than 300 bikes to members of the New Brunswick community, Jefferson said.
From fall of 2013 to fall of 2014, Kimber has seen an increase in the number of residents and students buying bicycles, which she finds encouraging for environmental and fitness reasons.
“In the beginning of the year, students were buying the bikes as we were putting them on the racks,” she said. “[The program] definitely encourages sustainable options for transportation, especially in an urban setting like New Brunswick.”
Colin Figueredo, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, frequently rides his bicycle around campus because it is “fit and efficient.” He believes the NBBE program could greatly help Rutgers students, in addition to New Brunswick residents.
“I think the program is great,” he said. “The ‘Freshman 15’ wouldn’t exist if all these students just rode bikes to class instead of taking the bus.”
Figueredo believes that students on campus could benefit from the NBBE program becoming more integrated with Rutgers.
In an effort to connect with the Rutgers community, the NBBE has partnered with Scarlet Day of Service and the Semester of Service program, Jefferson said.
The exchange has also worked with the Office of Student Employment to set up a paid managerial position at the Bike Exchange, she said. Already, more than half of the volunteers are Rutgers students.
One of the most challenging aspects of running the exchange is the fact that it is completely volunteer-operated, Jefferson said, and finding volunteers to refurbish the overwhelming number of donated bikes is difficult.
“A lot of people think they need to have prior experience to work with us, which is not the case,” Kimber said. “We have experienced mechanic volunteers who will train the unexperienced volunteers.”
In the future, Kimber hopes the program becomes more of a fixture in the community through hosting a series of educational classes. The NBBE has hosted “bike rodeos” in the past, in which instructors teach riders how to follow the rules of the road, ride safely and how to control a bicycle.
Last night, Kimber said the exchange hosted their first “Women’s Wrench Night.” An instructor discussed the basics of bike repair, including how to adjust saddle height and position, change a tire and adjust brakes.
“[The exchange] is a pretty simple idea, but it seems to be working well and I think there is a real need for it in New Brunswick,” she said.