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By Eric Sean Weld   Date: 4/3/09 Bookmark and Share

Bikes on the Menu at this Smith Kitchen

A dozen students wander down to Ainsworth Gym on a recent early spring day warmed by the sun. Some bring their bikes, others shop for wheels to rent.

View a Bike Kitchen photo gallery

Elisabeth Wolfe ’10 with the Bike Kitchen fleet.

“This bike is a winner,” says Ottilia Schafer ’10 to a student examining one of more than three dozen bikes hanging on hooks in a space tucked in the basement of Ainsworth. Boxes of bike helmets line one wall while rows of tires loop in bunches on the other, with piles of extra tubes and bike tools littered about. A steady stream of students lugging bikes up and down two flights to the outside keeps the stairwell occupied. 

This is the Bike Kitchen, a student-run rental program that offers more than 40 bicycles for rent to Smith students for the bargain-basement fee of $15 per semester. Students who own bikes are also encouraged to drop by any Friday between 4 and 6 p.m. to repair, tune up, or learn how to work on their rides.

Elisabeth Wolfe ’10, who runs the Bike Kitchen, supervises as her volunteer helpers assist student customers in locating the right bike and making sure their tires are inflated properly, their chains greased.

For Wolfe, bikes are a way of life. She rides everywhere and she wants to make it easier for others to do so. The Bike Kitchen is only one way for her to apply her deep interest in environmental responsibility.

“I bike all the time,” said Wolfe. “I fell in love with bikes in high school.”

That is why, in part, she took over coordination last year of Smith’s Bike Kitchen. The organization operates with funds from the Student Government Association and has grown considerably under Wolfe’s supervision. She has more than tripled the fleet, moved it from the Boat House to Ainsworth, and hopes to expand the rental service to alumnae during May’s reunion weekends.

“We have the capacity to become something bigger,” said Wolfe. “I want to make bikes accessible to people who don’t necessarily have bikes—to provide more bikes so people don’t feel they have to bring their cars to campus.”

The concept of bikes as environmentally friendly transportation fits well with Wolfe’s self-designed major of environmental biology and sustainable development. She hopes to provide people with the skills and practical knowledge to carry sustainability theories forward, and incorporate them into their lives.

“I’m very invested in grassroots progress that will help people apply in practical ways the theories they learn in the classroom,” she said.

In addition to biking, Wolfe manages the Smith Community Garden, a series of plots near Smith’s Center for Early Childhood Education now in its second season. The garden grows a variety of edible plants for consumption by the Smith community.

But it’s biking and its advocacy that occupies much of her time, especially during the warming season.

For those visiting the Bike Kitchen on warm spring afternoons, Wolfe’s efforts are appreciated.

“I’ve been to the Bike Kitchen a lot for tune-ups and help working on my bike,” said Sarah Carlton ’12, a Cushing House resident who swung by to prepare for a ride around town. “I think this is a great resource.”

That is the desired outcome.

“I came here looking for people who like biking as much as I do,” said Wolfe. More and more, they are going to the Bike Kitchen.


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