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Many of us have fond memories of that teacher or professor who, when the weather got nice, let us learn outside. At Raleigh’s Campbell Law School, Dean J. Rich Leonard has taken the outdoor classroom concept to a whole new level.
Last month, a bright orange, seven-seater Conference Bike—something of a cross between a tandem bicycle and the Trolley Pub—appeared cruising along the streets of downtown, just small enough to fit within the city’s bike lanes. It’s a new toy, or tool, for the law school’s students, staff and faculty members who want to take a much-needed break from the books and do something active while still being (somewhat) productive.
During a school trip to Vienna with students in April, Leonard noticed Conference Bikes, or CoBis, coasting down the Austrian capital’s streets, helmed by one person at the steering wheel, with six others working the pedals.
“The idea is a great one, where you could get a little exercise while you had a small group meeting,” Leonard says of his first impression of the bikes. “As long as the person who is steering and braking is paying attention, the others can really get engrossed in whatever topic or conversation that they’re involved in and be out on [a beautiful day]. Rather than sitting around in a conference room for an hour, you’ll be out in the sunshine, and get the same thing accomplished.”
Conference Bike is a Dutch company that manufactures the circular CoBis based on an original, nearly 30-year-old design from the American artist Eric Staller. Staller took up residence in the bike-obsessed city of Amsterdam in 1994, and evolved his design—formerly envisioned to accommodate eight, and known as OCTOS—into the CoBi-7 prototype. Staller says his mission is to “cover the world” with his invention.
Leonard, who started a standard bike share program—one of the first in Raleigh—at Campbell two years ago, saw the benefits of the Conference Bike for students. He persuaded Campbell Law School benefactors that buying a CoBi using donor funds would elevate the small school’s profile. Leonard put the order in this summer and received the bike in October, after Conference Bike was able to fabricate a CoBi out of galvanized metal in Campbell’s signature bright orange hue.
According to Conference Bike’s website, the 8-feet long, 6-feet wide and 4-feet tall bike weighs 440 pounds, can hold up to 1,500 pounds of riders’ weight and can travel up to 10 miles per hour. The CoBi-7 model costs $12,750, and has been sold in 16 countries, including for use at the Facebook and Google campuses in the United States. Leonard says he thinks Campbell is the only law school or higher learning institution in the country to offer a CoBi to students.
Now, students and faculty members can sign out the CoBi just as they would any of the other bikes in the bike share program and take it for a spin. (The school won’t be loaning the CoBi to outside groups for obvious liability reasons, but we’re taking bets on how long it will be before Raleigh companies and bike lovers invest in CoBis of their own). The Conference Bike isn’t difficult to steer, Leonard says, as he and some colleagues whip around the Campbell Law parking lot on a warm October afternoon. And, since most riders are only pedaling, sight-impaired students and others with disabilities are able to get in on the fun. But, Leonard says, though the bike has a five-year warranty, he’s not sure what he’ll do if something goes wrong with it.
“It’s a leap of faith, but when you do those sorts of things, you’re trying to get the name of the school out there and create a little bit of diversion for our students, who work hard here,” Leonard says. “If they can get out in the sun and do something like this for an hour or two, that’s just great. It was reasonably priced for what it does, and you get to see all these kids out and about—that makes it worth the while.”
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