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College Offers Free Bikes

College Offers Free Bikes to Students Who Agree to Leave Cars at Home

RIPON, Wis. (AP) -- Just say no to cars -- and get a free bicycle for better health and cleaner air.

That's what tiny Ripon College is offering new students next fall in what it says is a first-of-a-kind program that keeps the college from having to build more parking lots or ramps.

If students promise not to bring a car to campus for the full year, the college will give them a Trek 820 mountain bike, a helmet and lock -- a $400 value.

"We're a residential college with a beautiful, historic campus in the middle of a small town," said President David Joyce, himself an avid cyclist. "Paving it over was not an option I was willing to consider."

Thus was born Ripon Velorution Program, offering students a way to replace the ease and convenience of a car with a different lifestyle choice. The 1,000-student liberal arts college hopes to become one of the greenest, most pedestrian-friendly campuses in the region.

"We obviously live in a car culture. That's not about to change," Joyce said. "But if a significant number of students learn that a car isn't a necessity at this stage of their lives, that's good enough for me."

Tim McDonough, a spokesman for the American Council on Education, which represents about 1,800 colleges and universities across the country, said Ripon College's bike giveaway is the first one he had heard of.

"It's a pretty creative idea," he said. "Parking and transportation is a constant headache for administrators on every college campus."

Last fall, for the first time in Ripon College history, the number of parking permit applications exceeded the 400 permits available, Joyce said. And the city approved a measure to close overnight street parking on every street through and adjacent to the campus.

The college, founded in 1851 and located about 70 miles northwest of Milwaukee, teamed with Fond du Lac/Oshkosh Cyclery, Trek and other companies to start the bicycle program.

Friends, trustees and alumni donated about $60,000 to buy 200 bicycles to give away to an incoming freshman class of an expected 300 students, said Cody Pinkston, a spokesman for the school.

Historically, about 100 freshman arrive without cars so accepting the bike will be a "no-brainer" for them, he said.

"There is not a strong bicycle culture here with students. That is what we are trying to engender," the spokesman said.

According to Pinkston, there are other colleges that offer community bike programs or loan bikes to students.

"As far as we know, we are the first college to actually give students bikes," he said.

He likened the innovation to Duke University giving away iPods to students in 2004 for them to listen to lectures.

Joyce is part of a small group of "extremely passionate bike people" on campus who also have been instrumental in adding a cycling team to the school's athletic program, Pinkston said.

According to Joyce, velorution is a deliberate anagram of revolution using "velo," which is French for bicycle.

"I'm afraid that anyone hoping for news of a new parking lot or a multilevel garage being on campus will be waiting for a long time," the president said. "For anyone waiting to reinvigorate themselves and our society by helping to build a bicycle culture in Ripon, however, the wait is over."


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