Cycle to Recycle

Westside teachers bike to school to improve the environment and themselves


There’s something about being in the moment and getting your blood pumping traveling three miles in 30 minutes or less on a bike before the day starts. This is what biology instructor Tobin Ehlers and German instructor Amber Hollenbeck said they enjoy when they ride to school.

Weather permitting, Ehlers and Hollenbeck are on their bikes headed to work. Back when Ehlers first started riding in, he said that he didn’t ride it as often as he does now due to the weather.

“I used to live a lot closer, and I would take the trail down,” Ehlers said. “Then it got cold, so I wasn’t riding. Then there was this biology kid … He told me you just got to get a beanie and throw it over and some gloves, so we did a winter challenge. So, I figured out riding in the winter is just like anything else …That was about 13 or 14 years ago, and since then, my threshold is zero degrees, and anything above that, I’ll ride.”

For Ehlers and Hollenbeck, riding to work is a matter of comfort for what they ride in as well. Ehlers said that he rides in his work clothes plus corduroys, gloves and a flannel in the winter to keep warm. Hollenbeck, on the other hand, wears biking clothes.

“I change [my clothes] at Westside,” Hollenbeck said. “When I was student teaching in St. Paul, I was bike-commuting there, and I was very close. I would literally bike to work in my heels. Whatever I was wearing to work that day is what I biked in. Then, when I substitute taught, I would find a bathroom to change, which kind of sucked because there’s no place to put things. Here I use the staff locker room which is very nice. Now I bike to school in good biking clothes, then change once I get to [Westside].”

Ehlers and Hollenbeck cited many benefits of riding their bike instead of driving. They can ride their bikes to other places other than school. Both of them ride their bikes for fun, to run small errands or to meet up with friends, as it’s something that they have done since they were younger.

There’s good tasty memories from the times that we would posy up on our [Schwinn] Stingrays and go up to the hot girls we were hitting on in sixth grade,” Ehlers said. “It gave us freedom. I love it when I see a group of kids on their little Stingrays or something. Of course they’re nicer and wearing helmets, but you just see that and you know they’ve got freedom. They can get further into their neighborhoods and explore and stuff.”

Ehlers said biking to school is a way for him to get in the physical activity he needs along with running and lifting. Similarly, Hollenbeck said she enjoys riding her bike because she doesn’t do anything else to get the physical activity she needs. It’s a way for her to have exercise built into her day. But exercise, Hollenbeck said, is not the only reason she rides her bike.

“I guess my main reason is to lower my carbon footprint,” Hollenbeck said. “I don’t think I should feel guilty when I don’t bike, but on the days that I don’t bike to work, I try to make sure that there’s a good, legitimate reason for it because I am trying to lower my impact [on the earth] in that way.”

A big believer in both the physical and environmental benefits of riding a bike, Ehlers said that he would like to try and get the idea of biking instead of driving out there more.

“When I do end up retiring, I want to spend more time advocating for cycling or public transportation,” Ehlers said. “Like, in Chicago, if you’re taking the L [train] into the city, you’re probably walking way more than we do in Omaha because we pull up to this grocery store here, but there you get off the train and you’re walking a half mile to work. You’re putting in more steps and more exercise just getting to and from places.”

Hollenbeck and Ehlers both said they encourage more students and staff to try biking to school for a change. Hollenbeck said it may be hard to start up, but in the end it will all be worth it.

“It’s just enjoyable,” Hollenbeck said. “When you’re driving, it can be stressful in traffic, but on my bike, I usually feel good afterwards. I also approach driving differently. After having been biking for so long, I always feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m getting there so fast, it’s so easy,’ in my car. I feel like people take that for granted.”