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Beer Bike faces changes

By Ellen Liu     3/29/12 7:00pm

This year's Beer Bike will be the 55th in Rice's History, but the campus tradition is still facing some tweaks this year.

Campus-wide Beer Bike coordinator Philip Tarpley said the main event changes include a different event registration process with Student Judicial Programs, a two-stop parade, an absence of bleachers and a new required training program for bikers.

Brown College senior Tarpley said the theme he and fellow campus-wide Beer Bike coordinator Teddy Grodek want to emphasize is that the party continues at the track. He noted that people often view Beer Bike as a two-part event of early-morning activities and the balloon fight. Tarpley said the bike race has not historically been as fun for the majority of people, and he and Grodek want to change that perception.

In addition to this change, Tarpley said college Beer Bike coordinators used to register each event of Willy Week one day at a time, but this year, that process was consolidated into a single form that was submitted to SJP right before midterm recess, allowing them to see the entire week of events at once. According to Tarpley, SJP told the college Beer Bike coordinators that they needed to get the approval of their masters and chief justices beforehand.

"We were told that if that the masters signed off, SJP would approve them," Tarpley noted.

A college Beer Bike coordinator who prefers to remain anonymous to protect the identity of the college said the new registration process caused problems because SJP decided to impose a six-keg limit for Willy Week on each college.

"We got an email from SJP about the cap after we tried to register more than 10 kegs' worth of alcohol for the week," the source said. "Six kegs equal about 1,000 drinks; I serve that much on just the day of Beer Bike, so I don't know where that limit came from in terms of feasibility."

The source added that Beer Bike coordinators cannot accurately estimate the amount of alcohol they will be serving more than a week before Willy Week, which is what SJP asked them to do.

Still, the source's coordinating team followed SJP's instructions and got their master's approval of the events and alcohol provided before submitting the form.

The source also said it was completely inappropriate for SJP to impose a keg limit on the colleges the week before Willy Week.

"We've already made arrangements, and nowhere was there any mention of a cap prior to when we turned in the forms. That conversation should have happened six months ago," the source said. "I'm anti-cap altogether."

A representative from SJP declined to comment.

Tarpley said he and Grodek, a Martel College junior, decided to make two balloon-fight stops on the parade this year: one at Founder's Court and the second at intramural fields two and three. He said he hopes these changes will encourage colleges to head over to the track together.

"Last year, it was supposed to be two stops, but the IM coordinators pulled the plug two days before Beer Bike," Tarpley said. "The college coordinators got together this year and said they wanted two stops."

Hanszen College Beer Bike Coordinator Eric Dai said he would rather not have had a two-stop parade.

"Hanszen as a whole didn't really take to the two-stop idea [...] because in past years, colleges walked down the Inner Loop together for the parade. I would rather have that."

Regarding the bleachers, Tarpley said campus-wide Beer Bike was unable to fund them this year due to cost and logistical issues. The bleachers were costing them $10,000 per year, and that cost has been increasing, causing Beer Bike to run a growing deficit, Tarpley said.

In place of the bleachers, each college has a 30-by-50-foot fenced area around the track andcan do whatever it wants inside that area, Tarpley said. He noted that some colleges are buying their own bleachers, others are funding tents, and a few are getting hay bales.

"Think of a tailgating, carnival-like atmosphere at the track," Tarpley said. "There will be kegs for those of age and a caregiving area."

Dai said he was disappointed about not getting bleachers and hoped to have them next year.

Hanszen sophomore Joseph Song said attendance might be negatively affected by the absence.

"Students are usually exhausted by the end of the balloon fight," Song said. "With nowhere to sit, they might find little incentive to actually show up."

To prevent accidents on the day of the event, Tarpley and Grodek decided to require all bikers and pit crew members to pass a certification test administered by campus-wide bike coordinator Thierry Rignol.

"Last year, we saw a lot of accidents," Tarpley said. "Some of them were because of drunk or inexperienced riders, and sometimes, the bike just fell apart."

This year, Rignol, a Duncan College senior, implemented a biker and pit crew training program and maintenance checks for all the bikes that will be racing, Tarpley noted.

"These are high-speed accidents, and in the past, there have been broken bones," Tarpley said. "Going into Beer Bike, only certified riders can be on the track."

Like last year, each college's bike team should have 10 members but can have a minimum of eight if the first two bikers ride twice, Tarpley said. However, there will be a time and monetary penalty associated with having only eight members, and any team that drops below that number will be disqualified.

"We are serious about keeping drunk people off the bikes," Tarpley said.

Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said he supported Tarpley and Grodek's new plan because the university's highest priority is safety.

"It is imperative that the Rice Alcohol Policy be adhered to," Hutchinson said. "I ask all students to respect their student leadership on this."

Molly Chiu and Nicole Zhao contributed

to this article.

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