FAIRBANKS — The line already stretch-ed deep down the sidewalk late Saturday morning outside the Nordic House at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but the two-wheeled reward at the front served as an enticing carrot for those who could make it to the front.
The prize? A free loaner bicycle offered for the next six weeks by the UAF Office of Sustainability through its Green Bikes program. The program offers sturdy mountain bikes on a first-come, first-served basis to students willing to spend a Saturday morning in line.
The program, which was launched in spring 2011 with a $10,000 sustainability grant, already is drawing a crowd at UAF. Green Bikes has grown in popularity since it was introduced, with about 50 bicycles now available from an initial fleet of 20 new Kona entry-level bikes.
“We’ve always had more people in line than bikes,” said Michelle Sutton, one of the coordinators of the bike program. “We’re always adding more to try to keep up.”
Junior film and theater student Tyler McClendon claimed the first spot in line at 8 a.m., four hours before bikes were first distributed. He was holding a place for his girlfriend, sophomore theater student Sierra Trinchet.
They were both bleary-eyed and sleep deprived on Saturday, but Trinchet said the lure of a solid bike was worth it. She makes a ride of more than four miles onto campus from Gold Hill, and said her current clunker isn’t working out.
“Just being able to shift gears will make it a lot nicer,” she said. “And this has the word ‘green’ in it, so I’m good.”
The program was launched with a vision of cutting exhaust emissions on campus and making UAF more environmentally friendly.
It also offers winterized bikes — with studded tires, insulated hand covers and low-temperature gear grease — although they aren’t quite as popular with students. Those will become available in mid-October.
UAF Recreation Director Mark Oldmixon said the program is one of several factors that has noticeably boosted bike traffic on campus in recent years. He said improved winter technology and more bicycle-friendly roadways also have led to the spike in bikes.
“I’ve been here seven years, and I’ve definitely seen an increase,” he said.
UAF is offering a mountain bike race at 10 a.m. Sept. 22 as an unofficial welcome back to its throng of bikers. Both community members and students can participate in the 10-kilometer race.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.