WSU event looks to put students on two wheels (video)
WINONA — The "Bike Phantom" struck again and again at Winona State University this week.
But unlike other shadowy masked strangers, Bike Phantom, a.k.a. WSU freshman Claire Lippe, isn't mysterious. Her goal is to get more people biking and driving less. Her calling card? Small strips of paper she ties to students' bikes, thanking them for using their bike.
"It's quite funny how people respond," Lippe said during a break. "Some people are scared or confused. Some people start asking questions."
Questions are good. But Bike Phantom is only one aspect of WSU's fourth annual Bike Week , which features a series of activities and education programs that ran through the week.
A small bike repair station set up at a campus gazebo, oiling bike chains and pumping up tires for free. Students also gathered there for classes on basic bike maintenance and mountain biking. Two Trek bicycles will be raffled off this week.
"Our goal is to promote a biking community," said Sarah Burke, a WSU student who is also co-president of the school's Environmental Club. "It's faster to bike in Winona. You can get anywhere on a bike."
WSU would appear to have the infrastructure and layout for a thriving biking culture. Bike racks are scattered across campus. The school is easy to reach for bikers who live off-campus, and the downtown is within easy riding distance for on-campus residents.
Yet when Gretchen Michlitsch, a WSU faculty member, first arrived on campus six years ago, she was struck by the scarcity of bikers on campus. Michlitsch had come from Madison, where hardly anybody went anywhere without riding their bike. Hoping to create a similar biking culture in Winona, she and others spearheaded Bike Week.
"We figured everybody's got a bike in a garage or somewhere," Michlitsch said, citing one survey that showed that 43 percent of students have bikes in Winona.
Four years later, bikers are no longer an endangered species. Bike racks are filled and as gasoline again approaches $4 a gallon, students seem even more receptive to the message.
WSU senior Charles Boehland brought his bike to the gazebo to have some minor work done on the brakes and derailleur. He was soon riding across campus on his repaired bike.
"I always bike to campus," Boehland said. "It's a lot easier than driving. There's no parking anywhere around here."