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Student Experience - Wil Raymond

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Wil Raymond has high hopes for the Blue Bikes program at the University of Maine. As the student supervisor, Raymond has seen the program grow for the past two years and wants that evolution to continue.

Offered by Maine Bound, the university’s outdoor adventure center, the Blue Bikes program is a free bicycle-sharing opportunity for UMaine students, faculty and staff. As part of the Green Campus Initiative, the program aims to reduce the university’s impact on the environment in a sustainable way by repairing abandoned bikes to be used as an environmentally friendly mode of transportation.

Hometown: Lyndonville, Vt.

Major: Kinesiology with double minor in outdoor education and dance

Expected graduation date: 2015

What is the Blue Bikes program?
The Blue Bikes program is part of the Green Campus Initiative. It’s an evolution from the Green Bikes program, which sadly was a failed attempt to have free alternative transportation for students. The main problem with that program was theft of bikes, as well as maintenance.

The major shift from green bikes to blue bikes — aside from the color — is that we use a liability contract. When students, faculty or staff rent a bike and lock, they fill out paperwork and assume responsibility if locks are lost or the bikes are broken.

All maintenance is also free and included. We have mechanics on hand from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday to build and repair blue bikes.

We rent out bikes by semester. We don’t rent during the winter months, so bicycles will be returned by Dec. 6 this year and we’ll rent back out probably toward the end of March.

Where do the blue bikes come from?
The majority of the bikes come from the University of Maine Police Department. At the end of the year when most students move out of the dorms, the police department collects bicycles that have been left on campus. Bikes that aren’t reported missing or stolen within 180 days are given to us. We also get donations from people who want to see their bike put to good use.

We get everything from road bikes, mountain bikes, and even a few children’s bikes for children of faculty, staff or students.

Right now there are about 40–50 blue bikes in the fleet. We still get bikes that come in from being rented four or five years ago, so it’s not a definite number. This year we’ve upgraded to a digital database for all the bikes and locks, so we’ll be able to keep track of the bikes.

How do you decide when bikes get repaired and when they get scrapped for parts?
The defining factor of whether a bike gets built into a blue bike or scrapped is the frame. If it’s warped or cracked, then we scrap it for parts. Not only is the frame the base for the bike, but it’s a huge safety factor.

We do order a small percentage of parts. The parts that get replaced the most that we purchase are chains and cables. Every blue bike gets brand new cables when we get them back at the end of the semester.

When did you start working for the program?
I started working here in October 2011. After learning I had four years of experience working with bikes at my previous job, the co-director of Maine Bound at the time told me, “We have two mechanics that are going to be leaving at the end of the semester; you’d be the only mechanic, you can either cruise by and let the program fizzle out, or you can try to keep working on this and make it grow.”

What are your responsibilities as the program’s student supervisor?
I am the chief bike mechanic and manager. Basically my role — in part with Lisa Carter, Maine Bound director — is to help oversee the hiring of mechanics.

Interested applicants do a skills portion test, but we take mechanics on various levels. We have people who have no experience and people who have professional shop experience. Generally I try to pair those with little experience with mechanics who have more experience.

Currently we have seven mechanics. Two years ago, it was just myself and the program. I appreciate all the mechanics before me, all the mechanics we have now, and all mechanics to come into this program.

I still do mechanic work, but my focus is more on scheduling, hiring and the logistical end of getting blue bikes out now that we’re using a digital system.

I also process the applications for blue bikes. This year we’ve shifted from a first-come, first-served basis to an application process, and we’ve been giving out bikes to those who really need them. If there’s a full-time student who does not have a car and lives in the Greater Bangor area, we want to get them a bicycle before a faculty member who has a vehicle.

We got approximately 140 applications for the program this semester. We always have more people than bikes for the program, and it breaks my heart having to tell people we don’t have a bike for them.

Did you have experience working on bikes before taking this position?
I worked at a sports store for four years in Vermont where I was a general do-it-all kind of guy. I sold and fixed firearms, bikes, skis and kayaks.

While there, I worked on building and repairing new and top-end bikes, so working on used bikes, or bikes in severe disrepair, was a learning process for me. Instead of ordering a part, we try to find a part to use to Frankenstein the bikes together to keep them functional.

What are your interests beyond the program?
I’ve fallen in love with the outdoors thanks to Maine Bound. I’ve always had a passion for it, but Maine Bound has introduced me to whitewater kayaking and rock climbing.

I also fell in love with dancing here. On campus I’m a dancer and choreographer, and I also dance with the Robinson Ballet Co. in Bangor as a contributing artist.

Do you use a blue bike?
I do use a blue bike. I have a custom-built road bike. We generally don’t rent out road bikes, because they’re not the sturdiest. I will admit, it’s not painted blue. I painted it silver and gold because we had the paint lying around.

What are your future plans for the Blue Bikes program?
The other mechanics and I are going to start open shop hours, so people who don’t have blue bikes can learn how to work on their bikes. We can also do some work on the side — not for profit or anything — just free work to harbor goodwill in the cycling community. Multiple mechanics have also been working toward organizing group rides.

This year we’re going to start skills clinics for the mechanics. The hope is that people, regardless of experience level, can have something to learn from being in the program. This isn’t a business, it’s more educational for everybody, so the more the mechanics can learn and improve their skills, the better.

Why is the Blue Bikes program important to the UMaine community?
Beyond carbon emissions, our reliance on vehicles, and lack of bicycle use, it’s terribly important that people understand and value the importance of using alternative transportation.

Also, to help break the idea that a rusted chain or a flat tire means a bike is useless. We want to help people get over their fear of working on their bikes.

I think everyone should have a bike and ride it as often as they can. The more we can get in the mindset of bicycles as a mode of transportation, the happier I can be. I don’t have any grandiose dreams of changing the world, but if I can make a small impact, at least have a few more people think a little more consciously about not only their health and fitness, but the environment and appreciation for the outdoors, I’d like to consider myself a successful person.

The program grows every year, and when I graduate, I want to be able to walk away from it and be proud of where it’s at. It’s improved from where it was, but I’m certainly not ready to settle for where it’s at now. I want to see a fleet of 300 bikes, I want to paint the campus blue. I want to see as many people as I can on a blue bike, 15–20 mechanics working on bikes regularly.

I don’t think it hurts too much to dream.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan to serve in the Marine Corps and Peace Corps after I graduate, but for the time being I think I’ve certainly found something — between the bike shop and dancing — I find both gratifying and helpful.

I’d like to still stay involved in cycling. Eventually, I would like to have my own ski and bike shop, because that’s what I’ve grown up around and what I’m familiar with.

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