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Working @ UB

Trading the gas pedal for bike pedals

  • The ultimate showman, P.T. Barnum,
proved to be the inspiration for Cynthia Wu’s current book
project. Photo: NANCY J. PARISI

    Claude Welch was commuting to campus by bicycle long before it became fashionable. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

Published: May 6, 2009

A few years ago, when winter snows came to campus, Larry Mordue, a utility plant engineer in University Facilities who commutes to UB by bicycle, chose not to trade in the open air and freezing winds for his car’s cushioned seat and blasting heat vent. Instead, he attached a pair of studded tires to his bike and kept on riding to campus: rain, snow or shine.

Mordue, who now limits his bicycle commute to a mere eight or nine months of the year after having moved to Pendleton in Niagara County, is just one of several employees at the Chilled Water Plant on the North Campus who ride their bikes to and from work most mornings and evenings.

Moreover, they’re but a small sample of the many members of the UB community who prefer the bike pedal to the gas pedal when it comes to getting to campus.

“[Bicycling]’s just something I really like,” says Mordue, who’s been a member of the Western New York Mountain Biking Association since 1995. “For me, [the environment] isn’t my primary motivation, but I’m glad about it, and it certainly saves some money. I’ve seen a substantial reduction in the miles on my car—and the gas.”

In fact, Mordue’s co-workers Cliff Martin and Al Gilewicz say they only started riding after seeing his example. Martin, who commutes from Tonawanda, has especially taken to the challenge, says Mordue.

“They’re the ones who are setting the mark for others,” adds Gilewicz, who’s vowed to ride to campus 100 days this year. “They’re out there showing that it can be done.”

Nor do all UB bicycle commuters reside within several miles of campus. Ryan McPherson, associate vice president for government and community relations, lives on the border of East Aurora and Elma, nearly 30 miles from the North Campus.

“In the beginning, I tried to do a round trip, but that’s a lot for one day,” says McPherson, whose habit of the past four years has been to pack an extra suit, bring his bicycle to campus via car, ride it home at night and then bicycle in the next morning. If he repeats the process, that’s about 120 miles in one week.

“The evenings are always easier,” he laughs, “I’m not a morning guy.”

But the prize for the UB community member who’s been bicycling the longest time, if not longest distance, might go to Claude Welch, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Science, who’s been commuting by bicycle since the early 1960s, when his department was located on Winspear Avenue.

“I kept up the habit when political science moved to Ridge Lea and Ellicott,” says Welch, who’s since seen the department relocate to the North Campus. “I’ve always found it a wonderful way to transition from the world of work to home.”

Welch, who rides about three miles to campus, notes that Amherst boasts some excellence bike paths, especially along the Audubon nature preserve and Ellicott Creek. These parts of his route help him feel “closer to nature,” he adds.

Also among UB’s bicycling enthusiasts is Jim Simon, associate environmental educator for UB Green, who blogs about his experiences as a bicycle commuter at A resident of the Elmwood Village, Simon rides about five miles each morning to the South Campus.

“Commuting by bicycle is definitely becoming more popular,” he says, noting that UB’s efforts to encourage bicycling include the installation of additional bicycle racks on campus, as well as on the front of UB Stampede buses. “Every year, I see more and more people riding in the morning.”