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Beer Bike to divide races amid safety concerns

Brandon Chen / Thresher

By Spring Chenjp     3/21/23 10:38pm

Beer Bike races will be held in two heats this year, instead of the traditional singular race, according to Anne Wang, a campus-wide Beer Bike coordinator. The change is in light of last year’s crash during the women’s race, which injured three bikers and sent one to the hospital.

Associate Director of Campus Events Petre Herbert said that the decision to hold the races as two separate heats was collectively made by administration and students. 

“[Bikers and pit crew] have a higher risk for physical injury during the actual race, as they are in the lanes … Two heats reduce the amount of people on the track at once, which allows bikers to navigate around [fewer] people while riding,” Herbert wrote in an email to the Thresher. “We were also looking to the future as a twelfth college would be joining us.”

According to Wang, safety precautions are imposed by administration, risk management and other entities, and not the Rice Program Council. 

Wiess College Beer Bike Coordinator Matthew Sheets said that administration considered breathalyzing chuggers, but ultimately decided against it. 

Wang also said RPC is seeking to move the breath alcohol screening to later in the day, compared to previous years. Wang said the exact blood alcohol percentage cutoffs are yet to be determined.

“We’re working on giving the bikers [and] pit crew a better check-in process so that they can breathalyze closer to when they enter the track,” Wang said. “But that won’t be finalized until we meet with campus partners, Beer Bike Coords and others this upcoming Wednesday.”

Sheets also said that the race winners will be determined once race times and penalties are finalized, as they have been in the past, and there will still be one winner for the men’s race and one for the women’s. He also said that the heats makes the reveal more exciting. 

“[The results reveal] was always a part of the Beer Bike experience, but I think that it will seem like it’s a bigger part now that you don’t have any direct comparison,” Sheets said.

Sid Richardson College Beer Bike Coordinator Akshay Sethi said an additional safety measure included repairing the bike track over spring break. 

“There were a lot of bumps [so] the track was not safe up until last week,” Sethi, a sophomore, said. “In the next week or so there will be [biking] time trials, and we’ll have that last test for track safety.”

As one of the individuals leading campus-wide biker certifications, Suraj Chandramouli said the process is not very intensive. 

“We have official rider certifications where we check the skills of [bikers], but it’s very rudimentary.” Chandramouli, a sophomore on the Hanzen bike team, said. “It’s just making sure that [bikers] can ride a road bike, get on and off, clip in and out and [bikers] can ride around the track safely.”

Chandramouli said he is concerned about the placement of the track barricades.

“I’m not a fan of the metal barriers being placed so close to the track, especially because [for] a lot of people, Beer Bike is the only time they race,” Chandramouli said. “If they get nervous or if they lose control, [they] don’t get a lot of runoff area to stop before going into a metal barrier.”

Chandramouli also said he is concerned by the relative inexperience of many bikers. 

“A lot of people don’t have experience riding in groups, especially because it’s hard to get group experience at Rice,” Chandramouli said. “It’s definitely a skill that needs to be practiced, so that people’s first experience riding in close proximity with each other isn’t Beer Bike.”

In the future, Chandramouli said he hopes to increase biker training prior to Beer Bike, potentially by introducing simulated races.

According to Wang, RPC is considering further changes to future Beer Bikes for safety. 

“While not being implemented in time for this year’s Beer Bike, conversations have begun around [adjusting our insurance coverage], as well as gathering funding to do major track renovations for the safety of the bikers, as opposed to the annual patchwork [repairs] the track has gotten since its creation,” Wang said.

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