The need for speed

Racers line up at the Administration Building for round four of the marathon. Photo by Zahra Ismail | Radio UTD




Spring is here, and students are back to using all their creative forms of transportation! With everyone out of hibernation, curiosity got the best of The Mercury, and we decided to pit Comet against Comet in a bid to figure out the fastest way to get to class.

Let’s set the framework for this marathon. Five categories. Four rounds. One winner.

Racers repped electric transportation, skateboarding, bicycling, roller blading, or walking, and they were tasked to cruise down the clear, unobstructed street by ESCW — just kidding, what’s the fun in that? The Comets raced down the mall, which is notoriously packed with pedestrians and winding pathways, to simulate what it’s actually like to get across campus. They started at the round circle by the Student Union and made their way down to the Administration Building and back two times in the race for their life — or, rather, legacy.

And they’re off! Types of transport measured included electric, bicycling, skateboarding, roller blading and walking. Photo by Parth Ghumare | Mercury Staff.

Electric Longboarding (1)

It’s no surprise that the electric longboard came in first place and with an average time of 58 seconds. The Mercury staff may have joked about the walker winning, but once the motor of computer science junior Hruday Rudraraju’s longboard came to life, we knew it was over for the other participants.

“I knew it would be my device,” Rudraraju said. “I use this thing to get to class 90% of the time, and it can get me anywhere on campus in two to five minutes.”

Rudraraju decided to try out electric transportation last year after getting tired of cycling. He wanted to get a motorcycle, but his parents wouldn’t let him – so he got the next best thing.

“It’s given me the freedom to go anywhere I want,” Rudraraju said. “It’s eco-friendly. It’s given me pleasure. There’s been countless hours where I’m just [going] along skating around listening to music. It’s saved me a lot of money on a car.”

Other than his electric longboard, Rudraraju cycles to work and rides on a penny board whenever it rains. He doesn’t have other forms of electric transport, but he’s seen other students ride electric scooters, hoverboards and even electric unicycles on campus.

Just like you’d learn how to ride a bike before driving a motorcycle, Rudraraju recommends users know how to longboard or skateboard before trying an electric longboard. Users need to understand the fundamentals of boarding — braking with your foot, using your body weight to turn and keeping your balance. Users then accelerate or decelerate the motor under the board using a remote control.

“You don’t want to give a kid a Ferrari before they learn how to drive a regular car, you know,” Rudraraju said. “Definitely borrow someone’s board and ask them to teach you first. All the skateboarders I’ve met are superbly friendly and will help you out if you ask.”

Rudraraju’s board is capable of speeds up to 29 mph, although he does not ride at that speed on campus. He emphasizes personal responsibility for electric transporters — so being cognizant of surroundings and of pedestrians.

“I obviously understand that people on skateboards going stupid fast 27 miles an hour is dangerous to other pedestrians, especially during campus times when it’s actually busy. Us skateboarders need to respect the rights of walkers,” Rudraraju said. “So maybe there should be a middle ground where there’s a speed limit or dedicated lane for the faster people like scooters and cyclists, so they don’t have to worry about hurting other people.”

In total, Rudraraju paid $1,200 dollars for his board and all of the gear, including a helmet, pads, gloves, and armored motorcycle vest, which he highly recommends purchasing with the actual board for safety. Replacing the battery, deck and vest cost about $200 extra, and he didn’t have to pay fees for electric charging since he charges his board at University Village.

Roller-blading (2)

Roller-blading came in at second place, consistently five to 10 seconds behind electric transportation in each round except for round 3, where it finished neck-to-neck with longboard. AHT freshman Steven Duong represented the category and had an average time of 65 seconds.

Duong has been roller blading since he was in fifth grade. He got into it after a school field trip to a roller rink, and he’s now one of the most prominent figures in the roller-skating community on campus, which has somewhere over 100 members.

“Not to ring my own bell, but if you’ve ever seen the guy in a bucket hat riding around campus, that’s me,” Duong said.

Roller-blading is different from roller-skating — the wheels on roller blades are made for longer distances and the boots are more supportive, whereas roller skates have thicker wheels with aligned in pairs and stops at the tip of the shoe for braking. Duong is a roller-blader, but more specifically, he’s a “fitness skater” — his skates have three larger wheels on them instead of the traditional four, and his wheels are wider in diameter, allowing for even more speed.

Blading is possibly the most physically taxing form of transportation out of the types The Mercury tested, as is requires considerably more force from the leg muscles and core muscles for momentum and control. But that doesn’t stop Duong from skating everywhere he goes. From the pavements on the campus to inside his classroom, Duong is rarely seen without his skates on.

“Yeah, I’m not carrying an extra pair of shoes,” Duong said. “These are basically my shoes. That’s the neat thing about it – you don’t have to carry anything extra, and you can just glide anywhere you want. That’s why it’s the best.”

Roller blading requires a keen sense of balance, which users can develop through practice.

“If you want to roller-blade, just go for it,” Duong said. “Really the biggest piece of advice I can give is that anyone can roller-blade. You can do this! The balance stuff will come, you don’t need to have a good center of gravity going in necessarily. Try it out, practice with some roller-blading people. I can help.”

Students who are interested in starting can join the Roller Blading Club’s GroupMe for support.

Bicycling (3)

Bicycling came in third place averaging a time of 1 minute and 39 seconds – a shock to most of The Mercury staff who predicted it finishing in second place.

Biomedical Engineering sophomore Sneha Mandal picked up cycling last year purely to get to class quicker and learned it in only an hour.

“It’s not because I’m a fast learner, the bike is just easy to pick up,” Mandal said.

It’s all about balance – once you’re able to sit still on a bike without falling off and practice peddling a few times, riding comes naturally.

“It was sort of hard to have the motivation to go to class,” Mandal said. “I don’t wanna walk 15 minutes, and it only takes me two minutes on the bike.”

Mandal encourages other Comets to learn how to bike because of how convenient and safe a method of transportation it is. It’s easier to control the speed and momentum of a bike than it is a skateboard or electric longboard, so walkers have plenty of time to step out of the way.

UTD has bike racks around all major campus buildings like the SU and the Administration Building, so students have plenty of spots to store their device. And while there aren’t any bike trails on campus, there are plenty of wide sidewalks to practice on. Mandal recommends the path behind the round circle, which she says is the clearest spot for riding.

“I think it’s kind of lame to be a biker when you could be a skateboarder,” Mandal said. “But it’s a good way to explore campus if you’re new.”

Students interested in bicycling can check out stores by UTD like Target or specialty stores like Bike Mart. The most common bike to purchase is a road bike, with prices between $200 and $1500 depending on the brand and style.

Skateboarding/Cruising (4)

Skateboarding came in at a modest fourth place in each round, averaging a time of 1 minute and 53 seconds.

Marketing graduate Carlos Jong represented the skateboarding category, technically riding a cruiser, which is a hybrid between a skateboard and a longboard. The cruiser is almost indistinguishable from a traditional skateboard except for the fact that its head is narrower than that of a normal skateboard, meaning there is a proper way to orient the board. Regular boards have identical heads and tails, so riders can lead with either side of the board.

Jong started skateboarding when he was 10, but he really picked up the craft during the pandemic. Skateboarding is the most versatile method of transportation among all the categories – in addition to riding, skateboarders can use boards to perform stunts, which is known as trick skating. Jong is an officer of UTD Skate Club and a trick skater.

“We definitely have the largest community on campus,” Jong said. “There are hundreds of people and everybody knows everybody. And they’re far from the stereotype. We’re friendly and we’ll let you use our board, just talk to anyone you see skating, honestly. It depends how useful the instructions will be depending on who it is, but you’ll leave knowing how to skateboard.”

The UTD campus is a popular spot for skateboarding for students and other boarders in the Dallas community because of its smooth concrete, long winding hills and endless benches and boxes that are perfect for landing tricks such as ollies and trey flips. Popular skaters such as Keegan McCutchen have come to campus to film themselves skating. Jong said some of the best places to skate are by the ESCW building, behind the Science Pavilion and by the Administration Building.

“People will come with big cameras and line up to skate, it’s really fun,” Jong said. “Unfortunately, one time some of the police showed up and said we can’t be grinding on boxes because of some damage that was done to them. That wasn’t us, but sometimes we run into some trouble there.”

Jong said being an effective skater requires mind-muscle connection, as riding is half physical and half concentration.

“If you go to a skate park, you can do what’s called dropping in at the top of a ramp. If you’re not careful you could kill each other,” Jong said. “You could fall. It takes a lot of trust confidence in one’s ability for something like this and any trick in general. You have to believe you’ll land it to do it successfully.”

Popular skate shops by UTD include The Point and Magnolia Skate Shop, where students can get custom or premade boards. Boards range from $60 to $90, making it the second most affordable option after walking, and buildings on campus like the SU offer skate racks to store boards while students go to class. New or interested skaters can join the Trick Skating or UTD Skate Club GroupMe.

Walking (5)

A surprise to no one despite the jokes, walking came in last place at a comfortable average of 5 minutes and 21 seconds.

It seems the campus was made for walkers, with each of the major sidewalks at the mall ranging from 8 to 18 feet wide, sporting plenty of room for crowds.

“My only other method of transportation would be getting in my car, driving to a closer parking lot, and then getting out and walking,” international political economy junior Kara Curtis said. “I’m sure if I drove the car across the Plinth, it would win out, but it’s a good thing I didn’t do that.”

Curtis argues that the humble method of walking is the most comfortable and stress-free way to get around campus. You don’t have to carry around a heavy longboard or balance your way on skates throughout the whole day; all you need is your two feet. Additionally, Curtis said she’s able to get anywhere on campus within 20 minutes, so she can make class on time, as long as she starts the walk from her apartment early.

“It’s pretty easy because you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do with your motor transportation,” Curtis said. “Where do you put all these things like skateboards and roller skates in class? And what about when you fall? I’m chilling.”




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