New bike share and repair hub at Vic College
By Leila Kent
It’s a Saturday morning at the picturesque Victoria College in downtown Toronto and a wintry wind is blowing, but rather than huddling in bed, some bleary eyed students are hauling themselves out to fix up their bike share fleet. The bikes are part of a new college-funded program through which Vic students can borrow bikes and tools for free.
“Betty & Dash” sounds more like a Saturday morning cartoon than a bike club, but maybe that’s appropriate. Founders Stephanie Fox and Esther MacKenzie envisioned a non-intimidating group that wouldn’t take itself too seriously, and naming it after their own bikes was just the start. The club now lends bikes and tools to students, free of charge.
What inspired them initially was their college community. Victoria University (Vic, for short) is perched at the eastern edge of the University of Toronto. To the frustration of pedestrians and cyclists alike, the ever-slippery Queen’s Park and the impenetrable traffic that zooms around it separate it from the rest of campus. Vic, for some reason, has also acquired a sizeable majority of female students in recent years.
“We realized that Victoria College is really girly, and we’re both really girly,” says Fox, who studies biological anthropology, plays varsity rugby, and did primate research in Ghana last summer. She and MacKenzie wanted to reach out to people at Vic who find city cycling intimidating and those like international students with short-term cycling needs.
Betty & Dash member Ashley Quan painting a bike Photo by Stephanie Fox
Fox’s personal relationship with cycling got off to a cartoonish start. ” When I moved downtown [from Oakville] in first year,” she recalls, “I had this vision of biking everywhere. I wanted to save money, avoid the TTC… be happy, healthy, quick and efficient. So I bought a bike on Craigslist – and within maybe two weeks of owning it, I accidentally ran it over with my car.”
Fox finds this hilarious in retrospect, but at the time it was decidedly unfunny. She Macgyvered the bike back into ride-ability, but it was was never properly fixed.
Bikechain, University of Toronto’s D.I.Y. educational shop, offers a variety of services (which would have been great for freshman Fox). Unfortunately, it’s somewhat hampered by limited funding and a lack of visibility. “I didn’t know that Bikechain existed when I was in first year,” says Fox – a common complaint. The bigger problem is a busy shop. Space and hours are minuscule relative to the number of potential customers. Their rental program has 30 bikes for a campus of 50,000 students.
In the summer of 2010, Fox and MacKenzie started brainstorming. As Stephanie puts it, “Bikechain is a sweaty basement, usually full of guys. Not that it isn’t a friendly atmosphere – it is, but it needs a bridge from Victoria College.”
That bridge, they decided, could be built using a bike share program at Vic. With financial and administrative support from the Victoria University Student’s Administrative Council and expertise from mechanics at Bikechain, Fox, MacKenzie, and other curious Vic students put together the Betty & Dash fleet. When Mackenzie graduated last year, I took over as co-president of the club and we officially launched the bike share program in the fall of 2011.
Betty & Dash has also given bike riding lessons – an idea that some experienced cyclists scoffed at. “Doesn’t everyone know how to ride a bike?” they asked incredulously. It turns out that the answer is a resounding “No!”, but not being experts doesn’t make people any less capable of learning. (In the same situation? The City of Toronto offers info and lessons for all ages through CAN-BIKE.) Even for those who know how to ride, some tips can be helpful – especially when it comes to winter biking.
Despite her early set-backs, Stephanie Fox has since become a utilitarian, everyday city cyclist. “I’m chronically late, so biking saves my ass half the time. Plus, I can do twice as many things in one day!”
In future she hopes the club’s services will expand, especially by renting over the summer term and becoming better equipped: a kind of satellite bike hub on campus. For now, services are available by appointment.
And if you know anyone at Vic who wants to take advantage of the mild winter riding, let them know their steed is waiting in the stables.
Betty & Dash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org