Southern Utah University’s T-Bird Bikes free rental program gearing for launch

CEDAR CITY — A new program designed to encourage Southern Utah University students to use bicycles to get around campus is just now getting into gear.

SUU students Paul Rhodes and Greyson Jones work in the T-Bird Bikes shop, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 31, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

SUU’s fledgling T-Bird Bikes initiative, which aims to fix up used bikes and rent them to students for free, is the brainchild of SUU students Greyson Jones and Paul Rhodes, who’ve been working together over the summer to bring the project to fruition.

The program’s official launch date is Thursday, when interested university students are invited to visit the T-Bird Bikes shop, which is housed in a small garage behind a vacant SUU-owned residence at 215 S. 700 West. The open house is scheduled to start around 10 a.m. and last until approximately 5 p.m.

Jones, a marketing major, told Cedar City News he and Rhodes each thought of the idea behind T-Bird Bikes separately, a few months apart, having never met each other before. 

Rhodes, who is a civil engineering major and a member of SUU’s Sustainability Club, had already been working on the idea for a few months when Jones first approached Keith Howells, assistant director for SUU Outdoors, about the idea of SUU starting its own free bicycle rental program.

SUU students Paul Rhodes and Greyson Jones make a test ride of two recently fixed-up bicycles in the T-Bird Bikes program, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 31, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“He said, ‘Well, this is great, because, yes, we’re interested, and two, Paul, another student on campus is already working on this project,’” Jones said, recalling his initial conversation with Howells.

“So from there, Paul and I got in touch and got on the same page, and we’ve been working together on the project ever since.”

The T-Bird Bikes program’s stated mission is “to encourage students to explore an alternative form of transportation by making bicycles more accessible and teaching them how to maintain, repair, and enjoy them.”

Jones said he and Rhodes worked up a proposal and submitted it to SUU’s administration, including SUU President Scott L. Wyatt and Jared Tippetts, the university’s vice president for student affairs.

“They liked it and have decided to go forward with some funding for us,” Jones said. “It’s really exciting.”

Wyatt told Cedar City News he especially liked the idea from a sustainability perspective.

“They came to me and said, ‘We want the university to do more on sustainability,'” Wyatt said. “And my answer was, ‘Challenge accepted.'” 

Bikes, tools and parts are stored in SUU’s T-Bird Bikes workshop, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 23, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Wyatt said he mentioned to the students several things the university is already doing to cut down on energy consumption, including programs to save electricity and water.

“Then I said to them, ‘You realize that you can do more good for sustainability, as a group of students, than we can, as a university. All you need to do is get everybody that lives within a half-mile or so from campus to walk or ride a bike,'” Wyatt said, adding that he walks to work each day. 

Wyatt said he has seen students and even SUU employees drive from their apartments across the street from campus and park their cars in a parking lot a short distance away.

He said he told Rhodes and Jones they’d have his approval for the project “if this is your initiative, and it’s not just me trying to save money on new parking lots.”

“They were hyper-excited about it, and they went home and they put together a very good proposal,” Wyatt said. “The goal that they have is primarily sustainability.”

Rhodes said there are many students at SUU who want to ride a bike but either can’t afford one or don’t know how to fix the one they own. The T-Bird Bikes program addresses both of those issues.

The T-Bird Bikes workshop, conveniently located across the street from the SUU campus, will have a sign-up schedule allowing students to come in and learn how to repair and maintain their own bikes, assisted as needed by skilled volunteers.

The shop currently has approximately a dozen working bikes that are ready for use, with a few others still awaiting further repairs. The program is relying solely on donations from the community to build up its fleet of rideable bikes, Rhodes said.

Informational flyer about SUU’s T-Bird Bikes program, Cedar City, Utah, September 2020 | Image courtesy of T-Bird Bikes via Facebook, St. George News / Cedar City News

“We’re getting a whole bunch of bikes like this, ones that need a little bit of TLC, but with a little bit of care and some elbow grease, we’ll be able to get them back up and running pretty well,” Rhodes said.

Jones agreed that more bikes are needed.

“We’re willing to take whatever people are willing to give us, including kids bikes and stuff that you wouldn’t think could be fixed up,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of condition they’re in. We’ll be able to use them for parts, or (we’ll) just put a little bit of care into them, and they’ll be up and ready to ride.”

Funding for the program will come from SUU, supplemented by various grants. The program’s initial startup budget is around $6,000, Jones said, adding that they plan to keep operating costs low by relying on an all-volunteer staff and using donated bikes. Some start-up expenses were necessary, he added, noting that approximately $1,000 worth of new tools and equipment were recently delivered to the shop.

Registration for the new program has already begun. SUU students may sign up for free bike rentals or schedule time in the shop by emailing tbirdbikes@gmail.com or by sending a message on the program’s Facebook or Instagram accounts.

Registrants must be enrolled SUU students with ID and T-number. They also must take a brief safety quiz, sign a liability waiver and possess their own working bike lock.

Matt Bolus, director of Cedar City Bike Works, said he welcomes the T-Bird Bikes program and is looking forward to collaborating with its organizers. Although the two initiatives share similar goals and purposes, they differ in terms of their target users, Bolus noted.

“Their focus is mainly on the campus community, while ours is broader than that,” Bolus said. “We did some education events last fall on campus, but our Cedar City Bike Works is working to get bicycles and education out to the broader public. As an example, we work with Iron County Care and Share to get bicycles directly to people that need them.”

Bolus said his group’s focus is more on education and access, “but we will partner with anybody to help them.”

“Where I see this partnership really growing is coordinating together on educational events and stuff like that,” he said.

Event details

  • What: T-Bird Bikes program kickoff / open house.
  • When: Thursday, Oct. 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Where: 215 S. 700 West (garage in rear).
  • Details: For more information, email tbirdbikes@gmail.com or check the T-Bird Bikes Facebook page.  

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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