They’re seen all over campus. They’re usually chained up, caked with dirt, pathetic looking and abandoned. They’re not orphans left to fend for themselves though, or members of a lost colony of starving puppies.
They’re bicycles, usually covered with cobwebs, whose tires have gone flat, that sometimes spend an entire semester languishing in various bike racks across campus.
“I wonder why someone would just forget about their bike and just leave it there,” said Diana Cabral, master’s student in the public archeology program.
She said she had rarely thought about these bikes, but hoped their owners were okay.
“I would hope it’s not serious. Maybe something happened to that person, something unfortunate,” she said.
Karena Senchack of the College of Extended Learning has also noticed the abandoned bikes, but offered a more pragmatic reason.
Maybe students start out riding them to class, but realize it’s too much trouble. It’s like you have to come here, get your bike, go to the next class and find a bike rack for each building,” she said.
Capt. Scott Vanscoy of the campus police said that while the police have methods and procedures for dealing with abandoned bikes, they rarely get a chance to learn about their owners.
Sometimes the bikes have been vandalized and damaged, and their owners have chosen to buy new ones instead of getting them fixed, he said.
He described the rare act of someone kicking the wheel of a bike hard enough to bend it.
“It’s probably cheaper to just get a new one,” he said.
While Vanscoy conjectured that possibly a bike had been left and forgotten by a graduating senior, he said that sometimes the bikes belong to criminals that have been arrested on campus.
“We contact their families and give the bike to them,” he said.
Regardless of how the bikes end up on campus, there is a set procedure in place for dealing with them.
Tom Brown, executive director of Physical Plant Management, said his department is responsible for cutting the locks off abandoned bikes, but only after the police give them the go ahead.
Vanscoy said that, like cars, they’ll affix a notice to an abandoned bike stating that the bike will be removed within a certain period of time.
“We store the bikes for six months,” he said, adding that they have a dedicated storage area for them.
If they’re not claimed within six months, he said, the bikes are sent to professional bicycle repairers for rehab, then donated to charity.
Christina Villalobos, public information officer for the campus police, said in an e-mail that her department has a registration program that will identify bikes and match them to their owners.
She described the process of placing a sticker on the bicycle that “visibly identifies the bicycle as being registered.”
There is no cost for registering a bicycle.
Vanscoy said that 10 years ago there were many more bike racks on campus than there are today. As a result, the bikes tend to get crowded into the racks and stacked, sometimes damaging them. He doesn’t know why there are fewer bike racks now though.
“I don’t think there are enough bike racks around campus,” she said.
Vanscoy said that his department wouldn’t start an investigation of abandoned bikes until there are multiple reports of them.
“We wait until they build up,” he said, adding that they won’t bother with an abandoned bike if the rack isn’t full.
Cabral offered a solution for dealing with abandoned bikes that was identical to what is already in place.
“After a few months, they should cut the lock and keep them in a safe place, then donate them,” she said.