With 350 days of sunshine a year, Tucson is one of the best places to ditch the car and hop on a bicycle to get around.
Ranked No. 9 on Bicycling Magazine's 50 most bike-friendly cities in America, the Old Pueblo has a lot to offer for those who prefer a fresh breeze while coasting along one of the city's many bike paths to being stuck in traffic when commuting to campus.
The UA campus has been striving for a number of years to welcome cyclists and constantly improve its bike-related amenities. This past spring, the UA was recognized by the League of American Bicyclists, or LAB, as a silver-level bicycle-friendly university.
"The University's alternative transportation program has been very strong, and a national designation like that shows we're on the right track and gives us something to be proud of," said Bill Davidson, marketing manager with the UA's Parking and Transportation Services, or PTS.
According to Davidson, about 11,000 bikes are being ridden, pushed or parked on campus on a typical day.
PTS provides lots of options to ensure the safety and pleasures of riding to and from and around campus.
Newcomers to campus or to cycling or both are encouraged to swing by the Campus Bicycle Station in front of the Science Library, open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Operated by PTS in conjunction with the Pima County Bicycle Ambassador Program, the bicycle station is a one-stop shop for all cycling needs. Most of the attendants manning the station are bicycle instructors certified through the League of American Bicyclists.
"Those people are very friendly and extremely knowledgeable about anything bicycle-related," said Charles Franz, program coordinator for alternative transportation with PTS. "They even fix a flat or help with minor adjustments on your bike – for free."
In addition to finding a helping hand if needed, bicycle riders can pick up free materials to get them started on a fun and safe cycling experience not only on campus but around town and trails, too.
Not sure about Tucson bicycle laws, which roads are safe to ride on, or the most scenic trails for a weekend mountain bike adventure? The people at the Bicycle Station have all the answers.
To get started and take advantage of the UA's many bicycle-related perks, cyclists are encouraged to register their bike with PTS, which takes only a few minutes and is free of charge. Registration is available online, at the Bicycle Station or at the PTS office.
To start off the school year, the station will offer a limited supply of free bike bells to those who get there early and register their bike when the Bicycle Station reopens for the fall semester on Aug. 23.
Having your bike registered will help in trying to retrieve it if lost or stolen, Davidson said. Important data needed to identify a bicycle such as serial number, make, model, color etc. are stored in a database and easily accessible to the owner if needed.
To bike around campus or explore what lies beyond, you don't even need a bike, thanks to Cat Wheels, a bike-sharing initiative offered through PTS's Alternative Transportation Program to give UA students and employees access to free transportation.
By early September, 55 bicycles will be waiting at nine locations across campus, including six parking garages, the UA's Campus Recreation Center and the Bike Valet parking area (see below), where they can be rented for 24 hours at no charge. To check out a bike, students or employees only need to present a valid CatCard to the cashier, fill out a rental agreement form and they're on their way.
Arriving on campus all hot and sweaty is a dreadful thought that keeps many UA employees from commuting on their bike, especially during the summer. Enter the Employee Bike To Work Program, a collaboration between PTS and the Recreation Center. Between 6-10 a.m., Monday through Friday, employees can use the Recreation Center's locker rooms and showers at no charge.
To make sure cyclists find their bike where they left it, bike racks are located all across campus, and sturdy U-locks can be purchased at a highly discounted rate at the offices of PTS and the UA Police Department. For those seeking added security, bike lockers and enclosures are available at several locations on campus on a rental basis.
For those who just want to enjoy the ride and not worry about looking for space on a bike rack, the UA's Bike Valet Program provides a convenient, safe and secure way to park their bike on campus free of charge. From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, students and employees can leave their bicycle under the watch of volunteers manning the valet station, which is located just southeast from Old Main in front of the Robert L. Nugent Building. The Bike Valet will re-open this fall on Aug. 29.
"Bicycling benefits not just the UA campus but the neighboring communities as well," Davidson said. "PTS has been doing a very good job at connecting our bike paths to those off campus."
While Tucson is considered a bike-friendly town, boasting the annual Tour de Tucson cycling event, beautiful surroundings and accessible trails, cyclists need to be on the watch and ride defensively. Especially newcomers are often not aware that riding on Tucson's main traffic arteries and streets lacking bike lanes can be a bad idea.
Franz said to further enhance cycling on campus, PTS is assembling a bicycle advisory committee and working with an outside consultant to specifically address improvements to bicycle and pedestrian safety on campus.
"We already have gathered lots of data, for example where the choke points are on campus that get congested easily. Creative ways to promote bike safety to the student body are high on our priority list. We are developing a safety class specifically designed for UA students, which includes bicycle regulations on campus, traffic laws and bike maintenance."
Michael McKisson, an adjunct professor at the UA's department of journalism and bike advocate who commutes to campus on his bike on a daily basis, offered the following advice to newcomers:
"Get lights. You may think you don't need them, but some days, you'll be stuck in a late class or some other function that goes on when it gets dark, and riding home without lights is extremely dangerous, especially with Tucson's strict light laws, which make our city very dark."
"Get one of the free bike maps at the UA Bicycle Station," he added. "They show the bike-friendly routes around the city. But of course a map goes only so far and can be difficult to interpret, so the best resources are the other cyclists on campus and in Tucson."
One of the best resources about bike riding in this area is McKisson's blog, tucsonvelo.com, featuring up-to-date bicycle-related news and lots of useful resources, for example "Low-stress bike routes."
Besides Tucson's many bicycle stores, BICAS is another great resource for cyclists of all backgrounds. BICAS, which stands for Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage, serves as a hub for the city's vibrant cycling community. BICAS offers used bikes and parts at highly accessible prices, community workspace for do-it-yourself work, classes in bike maintenance and safety in a relaxed setting, and general bike advocacy.
"The greatest thing about riding your bike to and on campus is that so many people are doing it," McKisson said. "It's just great to see and be a part of a great community of like-minded cyclists."