The University of New Mexico is putting bike pedals to the metal this Earth Day, and you can grab a helmet to join. 

It’s the official launch of the UNM 5K Commuter Club, a brand new, eco-friendly initiative that combines off-campus with on-campus. 

This is a collaboration with Recreation Services, UNM Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC), Student Affairs, the Provost’s Office, and Parking & Transportation Services, all pushing towards UNM’s 2040 goals of sustainability.  

The club welcomes students, staff, and faculty to commute on bikes to campus at their own pace. Those up to the challenge will commit to biking to and from UNM, to reach a total of 5,174 miles–UNM’s elevation. 

It was born out of an idea from Vice President of Student Affairs Eric Scott. As an avid biker himself, there was a passion to get other Lobos to try it out. 

“Mindful of environmental and health benefits, I have been lucky enough to structure my life where I have been able to walk or bike to work for the past 18 years,” Scott said. “I love the joy and decompression I get from taking my bike to and from work, and have been appreciative of the local climate and improving infrastructure in Albuquerque that allows it to be quite pleasant most of the time.” 

"The UNM 5K Commuter Club offers our Lobos a fun and healthy option for commuting to our campus, and provides participants with the support, encouragement, and resources they need to keep both themselves and their equipment in good shape. I applaud this innovative approach to sustainability that’s not only good for our environment, but for your physical and mental health.” - UNM President Garnett S. Stokes

When he started discussing something similar, he had seen at another school, OAC Program Coordinator Charles Gwinn jumped at the chance to collaborate.  

Charles Gwinn and coworker
Gwinn works on bike repairs

"I'd been looking for somebody to champion a commuter club or give me a good reason to push for it. He had the brainchild, and then told me to run with it. I was excited about the opportunity” Gwinn said. 

After brainstorming on potential funding, incentives, and possible courses and team routes, the 5k Commuter Club was born. 

“It is meant to acknowledge the efforts of bike commuters, educate the campus about the individual and community benefits of bike commuting, and ensure that bike commuters have ready and affordable access to the necessary basic maintenance to keep their vehicles in safe working order,” Scott said. 

You’ll track your mileage on one of three apps: Strava, Map My Ride, or Ride with GPS. 

“As part of the program, we do require people to track it. It helps us check to make sure people are completing the mileage to receive tune-ups and that they’re actively participating,” Gwinn said. 

It may seem like a whole lot of miles, but it’s something you can do at your own pace. With no end date for the club, there’s no pressure to try and pedal out thousands of miles in a few months. 

“I think that there's going to be some people that knock out the whole 5,174 miles in two to three years,” Gwinn said. 

On paper it costs $35 for students and $50 for faculty and staff to participate. Eligible faculty and staff can use their fitness tuition remission benefit for the program. 

“That is the pricing breakdown for the length of the program,” Gwinn said. “As long as you’re employed by UNM or are a current student, and you have paid registration fees, you’re in the Commuter Club, even after you complete the challenge of 5,174 miles.” 

That’s not the only perk for trading your four wheels for two wheels. 

“I don't think there's a negative to the program and there's a ton of benefits included,” Gwinn said. 

"The UNM 5K Commuter Club offers our Lobos a fun and healthy option for commuting to our campus, and provides participants with the support, encouragement, and resources they need to keep both themselves and their equipment in good shape,” said UNM President Garnett S. Stokes. “I applaud this innovative approach to sustainability that’s not only good for our environment, and for your physical and mental health.”

Those participating in the club will get free basic tune-ups, two single-day parking passes (for those who do not currently hold an annual parking pass), and discounts on classes, services, and merchandise at the OAC. Having a go-to for repairs, Gwinn says, gives something beyond just riding a bike: learning about it. 

“It's nice to know what's going on with your bike and to be able to fix issues on the fly. It's a very green program, but it also helps with the educational side of getting riders to understand a little bit more about bike maintenance, and get a little bit deeper into bike knowledge,” Gwinn said. 

There is truly no end to the program. Registration will stay open for your preferred pace and season, and continues for those who complete the challenge. 

“The purpose of the program is for it to be everlasting,” Gwinn said. “As long as you're an employee or student at UNM, it stays with you.” 

The club will not only ease some traffic and promote active lifestyles but will also be a big help to the environment’s health. A recent University of California Los Angeles study found choosing a bike over a car just once a day reduces the average person's carbon emissions from transportation by 67 percent. 

“It looks good for all our departments too, to have something that we can stamp that says we’re trying to make a difference. For me it's about getting people out of cars and onto bikes,” Gwinn said. 

That’s not the only way you’d be helping the environment. Oftentimes, Gwinn said, bike parts end up in a landfill. Through education and regular tune-ups, the club will keep bikes on the road longer, and out of the garbage.  

“It's a constant problem, and the bike industry has a lot of work to do on getting away from non-serviceable parts. There's a lot of bike parts that can't be fixed once they fail, so that old part just goes in the trash,” he said. “We do recycle bikes and parts as much as possible. We can keep less in the landfill by doing programs like this and keep people's bikes from breaking down.”  

One of UNM’s 2040 sustainability objectives aims to “reduce our environmental impact to ensure that UNM contributes to a sustainable world.” With the UNM 5K Commuter Club, the OAC is ensuring it's doing its part. 

“It is all a big part of the sustainability goals. We thought that it played well into that and it's something we’re really excited about,” Gwinn said. 

The Lobo Bike Shop will be available to answer scheduling questions and bike tune-ups. 

In the meantime, all bikers and future bikers can learn about the program this Earth Day, Thursday, April 20.  

“We want the educational piece to be front and center, so people aren't just shocked when something breaks and understand what we’re talking about.  We want to make sure we educate people on maintenance schedules so that we catch mechanical issues before they’ve spread too far.  As more and more people ride bikes to campus our hope is to allow for a more knowledgeable rider,” Gwinn said. 

Gwinn and the OAC will be at the Sustainability Expo, waiting for your signup. That runs from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Cornell Mall.  

“I'm excited to be a part of the expo again, and use it as a launching point for the Commuter Club. It would be great if we get 20 people or 50 to sign up on that first day,” he said. 

Still, Gwinn’s overall goal for club members is not set. As years go by, he hopes that number will approach infinity.  

“To me it's unlimited. I think that it does nothing but good for the UNM community,” he said. “I think there's going to be some great improvements over the next several years where we see UNM and the city of Albuquerque becoming more and more commuter friendly.”