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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

The wheels go round and round and it comes off here . . . and how . . . and why
October 12, 2010 - 1:45pm

One last (for now) thought about bikes.

I was walking across campus last week, and a first-year (I'm presuming) student was standing, holding her 10-speed bike, looking at the area of the pedal sprockets and making confused/distressed noises.

Making the obvious assumption, I looked at the chain which had, as expected, come off the innermost sprocket and was resting against the frame. It took me the better part of twenty seconds to grasp it, get one link hooked on a tooth, ask her to pick up the rear of the bike (the most time-consuming part of the process), and turn the crank half-way around. Problem solved.

Or, at least, immediate problem solved. The student was grateful, but puzzled. How did I know what was wrong? How did I know how to fix it? Why had the problem developed in the first place? Was there a continuing problem with her bike? If so, how could she get it addressed?

Two things struck me.

First, here was a presumably intelligent 18-year-old (or so) who was away from home for the first time, was dependent on a relatively simple mechanical device for local transportation, and had absolutely no idea how that device operated or what could go wrong with it.

Second, here was an opportunity to create -- probably through some sort of co-curricular activity -- a realization in students' minds (this was hardly the only bike-rider among our student body) of how, at some level, things work in the real world. Here might be an opportunity to build a bridge between (perhaps too theoretical) book learning and practical application.

Which is key, because theoretical answers to theoretical questions often manage to skirt issues of sustainability. But real life isn't able to do that for very long.


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