Training Wheels: College Edition

August 10, 2017

by Jessica Lally

"I have always thought bikes were cool, I've always enjoyed basic mechanical work, I needed a job, and the Center for Sustainability seemed like an important thing to get involved with. Now I bleed this work.”


Thomson Kirsch, a University of Denver student and employee, confesses how looking for a part-time job evolved into a full-time investment. By running the DU bike shop, under the Center for Sustainability, Thomson is responsible for overseeing the maintenance and rental program for student bikes. A key factor in this is that he provides many college students with their first bikes, introducing them to concepts of alternative transportation and university commuting that may be relatively new for most folks. Students come to him realizing that they never thought to bring a bike to college since their childhood one only collected dust in the garage over the years. Now they see how useful it would be.

             This is not a program for the mountain pass climbing, jersey wearing, speed racing, cyclists, but rather a bridge that seeks to introduce new riders to the area and familiarize them with the bike paths and parks of the community.

“I do not think we are selling bikes to people who are going to casually crush their 10-mile commute each day (there are many pro-shops for that), but we target those people who maybe want a different way to get around if they're not in a rush or want to enjoy the weather. Hopefully, they will eventually realize that biking is just easier to deal with than driving (no traffic, no parking, and the city is pretty much flat as a pancake so it's not exactly a workout), and eventually start using it more and more. Functionally, imagine what it would be like if everyone that lived off campus drove instead of walking or riding. The infrastructure required for that would easily put even the wildest costs of the shop in perspective.”

            As bike riding grows at the university level, the lasting effect on students can be seen as they begin to explore the city, graduate and continue to navigate streets on two wheels instead of four. They can leave their university experience knowing how possible it is to commute via bicycle and hopefully incorporate that lifestyle into future decisions.

             This bike shop program continues to grow as donated bikes and requests for repairs flood the basement of the student dorm it currently works out of. Thomson believes their largest issue is a lack of knowledge of the program, not lack of interest. So once people hear about this resource, nothing is stopping them from knocking at his door. Each individual comes in with their own bicycle preferences and reasons for needing a bike.

“Around Denver, it is possible to use the light rail, buses, and bikes in concert to get just about anywhere. If students bring a car, to haul a bunch of gear to the mountains for a weekend, that’s not the problem. If they use that car to drive to Safeway from one of the residence halls to buy a couple items, that is a problem. You gotta start small, then work up, and that works for both individual people and society as a whole.”