Orange Bike Project

From left, environmental science junior Lorena Martinez, computer science and electrical engineering junior Paul Khermouch, biology junior Nikki Rees and physics junior Sathvik Aithala are the co-directors for the Orange Bike Project.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Flat tires, rusty chains and punctured tubes — a biker’s worst nightmare. UT’s Orange Bike Project is here to help.

The Orange Bike Project, a student-run organization, works to educate students on the ins-and-outs of their bikes and to cultivate a more knowledgeable bike community on campus. 

This fall, OBP’s bike shop moved from its old location in the San Antonio Garage to a more centrally located location in the 27th Street Garage. The new shop offers students a space for free bike tune-ups and repairs as well as daily and semester-long bike rentals.

“Everybody knows ‘Oh, I’m sick, let me call [University Health Services,]’” said Lorena Martinez, OBP’s co-director and environmental science junior. “But, not a lot of people know, ‘Oh my chain fell off, should I go to this bike shop and have them charge me all this money?’ We want everyone to know this service is available for them.”

Physics junior Sathvik Aithala, OBP’s coordinator, said their free services provide an educational opportunity for students.

“It involves the student more because it’s not like you drop off your bike at shop and get it fixed,” Aithala said. “We help you fix it, so you go through the whole process yourself.”

Paul Khermouch, computer science and electrical engineering junior and another OBP coordinator, said bike maintenance can seem confusing, but if students acquire simple bike repair skills, they will feel more confident if problems arise. 

“I think a big part of it is trying to de-mystify how the bike works and realizing that it’s really simple and not hard to fix,” Khermouch said.

OBP offers a bike rental program for students, which helps fund the organization. Students can rent used bikes starting at $30 per semester or new bikes starting at $50 per semester. 

In addition, OBP receives funding from Green Fee, a student committee dedicated to granting money to eco-friendly organizations and programs on campus.   

“We want to grow financially, so we need to get the daily rentals out more because that is what’s going to support us to service the students,” said Nikki Rees, OBP co-director and biology junior. “We are a free service, so it’s not like the more people we get, the more money we make, the more people we get the more money we need to find from somewhere.” 

Khermouch said OBP aims to create a cohesive bike community on campus. He brings UT bikers together Thursday nights at 7:30 p.m. in front of Gregory Gymnasium for a Thursday Night Social Ride.

“I am trying to get more UT students to come on the social ride because I think people would bike around more if they knew how much fun it could be,” Khermouch said.

Members said they hope to find students to take over the organization once they graduate. They said no prior experience is necessary. 

“You don’t need to know maintenance to come in, but if you want to work there, we’ll teach you everything,” Aithala said. “That’s what were all about. By the end of it, you’ll be proficient.”

The shop is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m, and members are there to assist students with any bike troubles they may have.

“Combined, the four of us can fix any problem,” said Martinez.

Elliott McFadden, Austin B-Cycle Executive Director, addresses Austin’s new Bike Share program outside City Hall on Wednesday morning. Austin’s $2 million bike sharing program opens Dec. 21. 

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Austin will add three new bike kiosks near campus to its bike sharing program, but the additions may conflict with an existing student-run bike-rental program.

B-cycle manages the Bike Share of Austin, an Austin government-sponsored program that began in December. The program allows users to pay a day rate or buy an annual membership to rent a bike, which can be returned to any of 11 bike kiosks throughout the city.

By Sunday, B-cycle will construct 15 additional kiosks, two of which will be located on Guadalupe near 21st Street and the West Mall. One other will be built near the Blanton Museum of Art.

B-cycle’s executive director Elliot McFadden said the bike share program allows people to more easily travel throughout Austin and avoid traffic congestion.

“It’s a great way to get around and make short trips if you’re worried about a bike getting stolen or having to take care of a bike,” McFadden said.

Sam Cortez, bicycle coordinator for Parking and Transportation Services, said transportation services and the city have not yet agreed to merge the city’s program and the Orange Bike Project, the University’s bike-sharing program. Cortez said the city’s program may not integrate well with the University’s program, and transportation services is considering other bike-sharing platforms.

“Most of these bike share programs are more successful in downtown business districts,” Cortez said. “We’re not necessarily sure that’s the right model for the University campus.”

Cortez said students on campus typically want to use a bike long-term, so the cost of the city program’s membership may not be feasible for students.

“Depending on how long you kept your bike out, you could theoretically buy a bike for that price,” Cortez said. “We’d have to have kiosks everywhere — if they live in Jester and want to go to RLM, their rental would be active the whole time they were [in class].”

Victor Harris, director of the Orange Bike Project, said demand for the University’s bikes is high and students must be added to a lengthy wait list to obtain them.

“Most people usually wait about a semester or longer to get a bike,” Harris said.

According to Harris, at least 60 percent of the Orange Bike Project’s funding comes from the Office of Sustainability’s $5 fee, which is added onto students’ tuition payments. Harris said the organization obtains additional funding through an annual bike auction and bike sales.

B-cycle’s executive director McFadden said the demand for B-cycle’s bike rentals exceeded its estimate but did not exceed the program’s capacity. According to McFadden, 95 percent of members and 40 percent of daily users are local.  

“We’re just thrilled that we’re getting higher-than-expected usage,” McFadden said.

According to McFadden, Bike Share of Austin received a $1.5 million federal grant and $500,000 from local companies and organizations. He said the overall projected annual budget is about $700,000 to run 40 stations.

Harris said he thinks that as the city’s bike share program expands its presence around campus, students will transition from its short-term rentals to longer-term rentals with the University’s Orange Bike Project.

“I think it’ll open people’s eyes,” Harris said. “It’ll be more permanent instead of a one-day thing. … That’s where we would step in.”

Watch a Daily Texan videographer evaluate the bike share program in this video column.