Between the whirling sounds of tools scraping against metal and a classic hip-hop Pandora station seeping through speakers, Aaron Rourke drowns all outside noise and concentrates on replacing a broken tire valve like he’s done this his entire life, when in fact he’s learning more as he goes along.
“I’m currently taking a do-it-yourself class one of our amazing mechanics. I’m in it right now and it’s been a great opportunity to learn how to work on my own bike,” says the 26-year-old bike program manager and undergraduate environmental studies major at the University of Oregon Outdoor Program.
He looks the part of any typical bicyclist, a tight greenish-gray cycling cap sits on his tall and lanky frame. It’s a brisk and cloudy Friday afternoon yet he wears just a baby-blue button shirt and khaki pants like it’s much warmer than it actually is.
His finger tips are black with grease and his eyes gaze over each individual nut and bolt carefully, spinning the tire to make sure it lines up just right with the frame and doesn’t hit the fender. He presses his ear against the metal and wonders why there’s a faint squeaking coming from pressing on the pedal.
The problem doesn’t faze him. He lists out loud his step-by-step instructions but to the average person with no clue about bicycle culture, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense. He casually rubs the bike chain with grease and the squeaking disappears.
Located on 18th and University Street behind Hayward Field, the Outdoor Program (known as the bike barn) provides access to bicycles and other outdoor gear to UO students and the Eugene community through a loan program as well as offers classes to anyone who wants to learn to better take care of their ride from trained mechanics Matt Keeler, Elle Natchke and Jeff Leanse.
A Californian native from Half Moon Bay, a coastal town south of San Francisco, Rourke has been involved with cycling ever since childhood, riding with his father and sister, racing friends on mountain bikes and participates in Cyclo-cross marathons.
“I grew up playing outside. When I was living abroad in New Zealand I discovered the joys of bike commuting in Christchurch and the south islands,” he says.
He’s traveled abroad to Australia, Vietnam and taught English to children in Thailand before moving back to the states to study at the UO and started working at the Outdoor Program this fall term.
Born in 2008, the Outdoor Program has been striving to make the University of Oregon and the city of Eugene more bike friendly and making commuting for cyclists easier. Already one of the top bicycle-friendly campuses in the United States, the Outdoor Program has recently set up mobile repair stations across the UO that offer tools and how-to videos for cyclists caught with a flat tire or loose screw.
“You can come in to any of our five self-service stations and if you have your smart phone,” he says “and can scan a QR code on the side, which allows you to watch bicycle repair videos and these posts come with plenty of tools for minor fixes.”
Repair stations can be found in spots around campus such as in front of the Outdoor Program on 18th Avenue, Knight Library, 13th and Kincaid, Franklin Boulevard, the Global Scholars Hall and a station was recently installed at the EMU.
Along with the repair stations, the Outdoor Program and led by Ted Sweeny and coordinator Briana Orr hope to get more larger projects into the Eugene community.
“It’s a system consisting of stations with bikes where you go and swipe a card or punches a pin and you get a bike to use for a short trip,” Rourke says, “It’s already really big across Europe and some states have gotten on board like D.C., Minneapolis and campuses like Washington State, and California Irvine. It would be nice for the city to get on board and work with the UO.”
“Aaron has brought a fresh perspective, new energy, and ideas to the Bike Program and Outdoor Program in general,” says Orr, “He has an attention to detail and can still keep perspective on the bigger picture.”
However Rourke doesn’t believe that the city of Eugene is doing enough to accomplish what bike commuters’ want. He would like to see more being done with taking out on-tree lawn parking and putting in more bike lanes but feels it hits a snag because of funding issues.
At the end of the day it’s watching students come in who have never experienced cycling and knowing he and the Outdoor Program are “making a difference in the transportation culture of both campus and of Eugene,” Rourke says amid the seemingly thousands of tools and bike equipment dangling from the ceiling.
Often the most rewarding times are when I see international students who have never biked in the United States before at all, leave the barn with a bike and turn off onto a bike lane and just go about their day.”
The Outdoor Program is open Monday through Friday from noon to five for anyone who want to use the tools and learn about bicycling in Eugene or for recreational as well as numerous outdoor activities.
For more information about the Outdoor Program, visit http://www.outdoorprogram.uoregon.edu