Liz Bernier is the manager of the UCLA Bike Shop. The UCLA Bike Shop is both a do-it-yourself and a fee-for-service workshop open to the UCLA Community (students, faculty, staff, and UCLA Recreation members). The shop was founded in early 2006 as proposed in UCLA's 2005 Bike Plan. The Bike Shop was co-founded by UCLA Transportation and UCLA Recreation. Liz Bernier was the first full-time employee in the Bike Shop and joined in the fall of 2011.
Can you tell us about the services the Bike Shop offers?
We currently have 90 bikes that are rented out to students on a quarterly basis for an extremely affordable price. We charge $50 per quarter, which is about the same that you'd pay anywhere else in L.A. for a daily bike rental. The students really appreciate this offer. Do you see the orange bag over by the wall (pointing)? A student just returned her bike and left brought us a bag of chocolates and a very nice note to thank us.
People get really attached to their bikes. A guy just returned his bike yesterday. I think he rented it for about a year and a half, maybe even two years. He said that he had to do a few extra laps on his bike before returning it.
Do students also have the opportunity to buy bikes at the Bike Shop?
Up until now, the Bike Shop only rented out bikes. This year for the first time we're doing a pilot program for Weyburn Terrace students where they can buy a bike for a really discounted price. We started with 50 bikes earlier this year, and now we're going to sell another 50 later this summer. At this point, this service is just for graduate students living in Weyburn Terrace. If we want to sell more bikes in the future, we're going to need more space and more staff to make this happen.
What other services does the bike shop offer?
We're like a bike co-op, a bike shop and a bike rental all into one. You can bring us your bike and we fix it, just like a regular bike shop. Or you can come here and use our tools to fix your bike. We're happy to give you some advice in case you need it. We also teach bike classes, we currently offer seven different classes. All except one are free of charge. Our classes focus on traffic skills, safety and bike maintenance. We teach the basic concept of vehicular cycling. This means that cyclists act and are treated as drivers of vehicles. We're showing how to best position yourself in the lane, how to be safe in traffic. Then we take them on a ride through Westwood and West L.A. All of our classes are free, except for the wheel building class, for which we have to buy material. By the way, all participants who successfully complete one of our traffic skills classes receive a free bike helmet, safety lights and a bell.
A lot of students who rent their bike from the Bike Shop don't really know how to ride a bike. We normally just take it for granted that you know how to ride a bike, but some people haven't learned it yet. A little while ago two students came to rent a bike for the quarter and one of them said that she didn't know how to ride it.
Her friend offered to teach her. Afterwards, I saw them out on the fire lane right next to the bike shop and he did lessons with her for about four days. Each day, they tried out something a bit more difficult. In the end, she was a confident cyclist and they did a slalom drills. We've seen her around campus with her bike a few times since, and she's riding it like a pro.
Throughout the last few years, do you think that there has been an increase in the amount of cyclists on campus and in Westwood?
Yes, definitely. Through initiatives like CicLAvia and the updated LA Bike Plan, the city of LA really supported cyclists. There were many more bike lanes available than before. At UCLA, the green bike lanes really made a difference, as well as the repair bike stands. I also believe that bike culture itself is growing in LA. I do lots of social rides. For example, there's 'Critical Mass', a social ride that gets passed from city to city every year. In 2005, we were so excited that we had 300 participants here in LA. Today, we're closer to 1,000 people on this ride. I think this really shows how bike culture is growing.
Do you have any recommendations for bike commuters in LA?
I think the most important thing is to find a good route. I used to ride on the main streets, but now I try to avoid them. Which route works best for you depends on your cycling style. If you're riding really fast, mostly at the speed of traffic, the main streets might work best for you. If you're a more laid back cyclist like me, it's much more relaxed to take side streets instead. Many cyclists think that it's more difficult to ride on side streets because they don't have traffic lights at intersections. But the trick is just to wait until the intersection is clear, so that you can cross safely. It's basically the same as waiting at a traffic light; you just don't have a traffic light that gives you that extra feeling of security. Riding on smaller roads just makes your ride so much more enjoyable.
You also need to know how to stop your bike immediately if you need to, without toppling over or falling. I also think that it's ok to ride on the sidewalk sometimes, depending on the situation. If you're riding your bike past the LA Country Club, you might want to ride on the sidewalk, as cars speed by with about 60 miles per hour. Some people say that you should never ride on the sidewalk, but I think that it's ok in certain situations, as long as you respect pedestrians and watch out for them.
Are you an avid cyclist yourself?
Yes, I grew up in LA and I never really got my driver's license until I had to for a job I had in college. I have to say that I don't really like driving a car, I much prefer being in charge of a small vehicle like a bike. When I moved back to LA a few years ago, it was my obvious choice to move around walking and riding my bike.
I also take public transportation quite a bit. I really like it, and I think we can definitely use more of it here in LA. I'm quite excited about the extension of the Expo Line. I think it's great that you can see people taking the Expo Line who normally don't really use public transit. They go out for a fun night on the town and take the train to get back home. I think that the extension of this line will get even more people to try public transportation.
What is your experience interacting with drivers on the road?
Many drivers are great, but I've also had some unfortunate experiences. Some drivers don't accept that bikes have to same right to be on the road as they have. Once, a lady in a car next to me drove so close to me that I had to push off her window to prevent her from hitting me. The lady then got out of her car and pushed me.
What do you do in a situation like this?
First, you need to find a witness. Get the contact details of a person who witnessed the incident. You'll need them if you want to press charges against somebody, or if you have an insurance claim. In my case, somebody got out of her car to support me. Many people want to do the right thing. They stop and come to help you. Then you call 911 to notify the police. After you call the police, you need to file a report. That's important for your medical expenses in case you have any. In some cases you might not realize that you're hurt at the time, but you'll find out later.
Thanks for the interview, Liz. All the best to you and the UCLA Bike Shop team!