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A worker rides a bicycle at the Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard in Newport News,
Adrin Snider / The Daily Press / ASSOCIATED PRESS
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BY MICHAEL WELLES SHAPIRO
NEWPORT NEWS--Bicycles aren't a new way for workers to navigate Newport News Shipbuilding's sprawling riverfront shipyard. Bikes have been around the yard at least since the 1930s, based on photographs dating to that period.
But the two-wheelers have sped ahead in recent decades in terms of their abundance and their popularity among employees and managers alike.
The shipyard had 2,245 bicycles in 1987, according to a Daily Press article. Today there are more than 6,000.
The number of shipyard employees has fallen by more than 5,000 during the same time period. That means there's a bike for every 3.5 employees today, compared with fewer than one for every 10 employees 25 years ago.
And the yard, a business unit of Huntington Ingalls Industries, is considering applying new technology to divvy up the bikes that would modernize an otherwise old-school mode of transportation.
"We're thinking of looking at a bike-share program to see if that would work better," said Bob Fallon, director for facilities and waterfront support at the shipyard.
"Right now our people have them assigned and there's good things about having them assigned because our people take care of their bikes," he said.
Bike-share programs have sprouted up in cities like Washington (1,670 bikes), Denver (520 bikes) and Boston (600 bikes). Bikes are typically checked out using a credit card from docking stations spread out through a city.
"We know how [bike-shares] work, and they've started doing them more in the U.S.," Fallon said. "We're just trying to figure out if that really works in an industrial environment."
That bumpy waterfront terrain means the shipyard buys bikes that are simple and sturdy.
"They're durable and they have a wider tire than the slick 10-speed racing bikes," said Dave Byrum, a manager in the maintenance department whose employees get called upon to work in all corners of the yard.
Byrum said the Spartan bikes, with no hand-brakes or gears, are meant to withstand the shipyard's tough riding environment--2.5 miles of riverfront and a web of railroad tracks.
Chief among the safety lessons taught to new bike riders at the yard is how to get over tracks without spilling.