At first glance, Lisa Hall and Greg Busch seem like an ordinary grad student couple. They’ve been married for four years, and Lisa will finish her Ph.D. in chemical engineering in the summer of 2009, while Greg’s will complete his doctorate in aerospace engineering later next year. They have a 16-month-old son, Glenn, that they load into a car seat to take to daycare when they travel from their northwest Champaign home to campus.
But once you realize that Glenn’s not riding in the backseat of a car, but in a fully-enclosed trailer behind his parents’ homemade back-to-back tandem recumbent bicycle, the situation reveals itself as anything but ordinary. “It just seems like the obvious thing to do, though,” said Greg. “It just seems like, you’ve got a good reason to carry a trailer, and you don’t have to worry about grocery shopping or anything like that.”
Hall and Busch have come a long way as bicycle commuters since their undergraduate days at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. Greg explained, “In undergrad, I actually got an internship at Digital Audio Disc Corporation, and I lived literally a quarter mile away and I drove there every day to work. And I said, ‘I should ride my bike there.’ I did it one day and I’m like, ‘This sucks,’ and I never did it again.” Lisa agreed, “When I was a kid, I would ride down the street to my friend’s house. But I didn’t really think of it as a way to commute before we moved here.”
So what would inspire such biking novices to make the switch to hardcore bike commuting from the wrong side of Interstate 74? Poor car parking options, of course. “We moved here and we had heard that parking was going to be a problem, so we had planned on riding bikes when we moved here,” Greg recalled. Lisa remembered things a little differently. “Greg had planned on riding,” she said with a smile. “I remember considering whether it would be bus friendly.”
Things didn’t go so smoothly at first, despite their enthusiasm. “Greg dragged me to commute a few times, and we would go on the sidewalks, because it’s kind of scary to jump into it [on the streets],” Lisa related. “I guess what really motivated us is that we decided that it was faster than driving and parking somewhere and then walking, or bussing because we have to transfer. So we get there significantly faster than the bus.”
Another motivation was the opportunity to try out their own home-built vehicles. “When we first moved here, Greg had wanted to build a human-powered vehicle when he was at Rose and he never got a chance,” Lisa said. “So Greg made his first bike then,” a low-riding recumbent.
“That was a lot of fun; I put a lot of miles on that,” Greg recalled. “Probably like 15 to 20,000 miles. It outlasted all my bike computers, so I don’t know exactly, but Lisa had 12,000 on one of her bike computers. We go about 3,000 miles a year, we estimate.”
Lisa soon caught the bike-building bug, too. “I used to be the handy one, and then Greg went off and became a mechanical engineer and I think that’s cheating. So after a while, I dropped the Schwinn [her original bike from Wal-Mart] and we built a bike together,” that being Lisa’s personal recumbent. They worked through several prototypes together before Greg completed their current tandem, a brazed-steel frame, dual-wheel drive machine that uses all standard components.
Despite the bike’s size and carrying capacity, Hall and Busch are still happy with the tandem’s performance. “We do pretty well on the tandem, pretty good speed,” Greg noted. “We outraced some people at Cranksgiving.
“Of course, that was before the new trailer,” Greg continued.
“The new trailer slows us down.” Lisa added, “It is pretty heavy, but it’s almost airtight, so it’s a much better ride for [Glenn]. It’s a very cushy ride. It’s double suspension, so we’ll go over a huge bump and Glenn does nothing.”
Despite the winter cold, Glenn stays nice and cozy in the trailer. “If you ever look at him in the trailer, you’re like, ‘How the hell can he get cold?’” Greg contended. “All you see is a pile of blankets. We kind of worry about him being too hot, if anything.”
Lisa is not satisfied, though. “We’ve got lots of projects we want to do,” she said. “I want a full on-board electronics system, I want a thermocouple, accelerometer, blinky lights, turn signals.”
Did I mention that they’re engineers?
Greg and Lisa have even more goodies lurking in their garage. There’s Glenn’s all-wood runner bike, Greg’s high racer and the couple’s bike-hauling bike trailer, which can carry at least eight bicycles for large transfers, the sort that are often needed at The Bike Project.
Unfortunately, the couple’s time in Champaign-Urbana is probably drawing to a close; but they’ve inspired many in the bike community during their time here with their creativity, ingenuity and industriousness. Like Lisa says, “I think you have to be serious about cargo if you’re going to be serious about riding your bike for transportation,” and it’s clear that no one can question them on that count.