If it has pedals, a chain and two wheels, there’s a good chance Alexia Garcia ’18 and Charles Hooghkirk ’19 can fix it. Garcia and Hooghkirk each spend 10 to 12 hours a week repairing and refurbishing bicycles of all types and vintages as paid mechanics at Vassar’s rejuvenated Bike Shop, located in the basement of Strong House.
Bicycles have been a preferred means of transportation around the Vassar campus for decades; more than 300 student-owned bikes are currently registered with Campus Security, and faculty and staff bicycles add to that total significantly. But a reliable place for repairs has been hit-or-miss over the past few years, depending on the activity and expertise of the student organization, Vassar Bikes. Last spring, the college’s Sustainability Office took over responsibility for the Bike Shop, providing funding for the two mechanics.
Sustainability Coordinator Alistair Hall says ensuring that cyclists at Vassar have access to a good repair shop is essential. “The mission of the Sustainability Office is to support and catalyze good ideas across campus, and this is certainly one of them,” Hall says. “The Bike Shop has existed off and on over the past few years, but from conversations with student leaders, we determined that if what is needed to make it successful is more institutional support, then the Sustainability Office would do what it can to provide that support. A partnership with the Vassar Student Association and VC Bikes promotes ‘bike culture’ on campus through activities like group rides, races, and meetings with local community groups.”
Garcia, a political science major from Portland, OR, has been a cycling enthusiast for most of her life. “Portland is a big bicycling community, and when I got a good bike when I was 14 or 15, my dad thought it was time I learned how to take care of it,” she says. “I’ve been helping friends and neighbors change tires and brakes and make other repairs ever since.”
Hooghkirk, a biology major from Duluth, MN, says he enjoys helping students, faculty, and staff keep their bikes in working order. His own bike was stolen last year, but he built himself a new one using parts from discarded bikes stored in the shop. Hooghkirk says he often uses parts from the shop’s orphan bikes to make repairs on customers’ bikes, sparing them the expense of buying new parts. “We normally get six or seven customers every day, and mostly it’s for minor issues like tires or brakes,” he says. “We have the tools and the parts to fix almost anything.”
Hooghkirk says he and Garcia work closely with Vassar Bikes to organize scenic rides in the region, and the group is currently making plans for a “strictly for fun” race around the campus. He says he also hopes to launch a long-term loaner program for students who don’t bring their own bikes to the campus. “You’d get a bike when you got to Vassar, and we’d maintain it for you, and when you leave, you’d return it,” Hooghkirk explains.
Garcia says she’s thoroughly enjoying her job as a bike mechanic. “When I heard the job was posted, I applied immediately,” she says. “It’s a real hands-on skill that will be useful the rest of my life, and I’m always learning more about repairs through YouTube tutorials and from others here on campus who know a lot about bikes. It’s a great job.”