Big Red Bikes provide greener commutes

Bowling Green senior Matt Graham’s interest in cycling grew after coming to WKU. Eventually the position at Big Red Bikes was passed down to him, and he will surrender the title after graduating in the spring. “I got a road bike and started being able to go fast, like over 20 miles an hour,” he said. “I started liking it a whole lot, using my own muscles to get somewhere instead of relying on a car.” Tanner Cole/HERALD

Tanner Cole

There’s a little house with a big mission on the side of WKU’s campus. That house is the Office of Sustainability.

The inside is illuminated with natural light, and the exterior is lush with community-grown plants. The interior walls are lined with posters explaining the many projects the little house takes on above ground. Walking down the rickety stairs in the center, one finds a huge service hidden below the surface — Big Red Bikes.

Big Red Bikes is a free bicycle rental program for WKU students. It promotes environmental sustainability by providing students an alternative to driving. Plus, all the bikes are recycled from impounded or abandoned bikes found on campus.

The program is based out of the Office of Sustainability, but one student, Bowling Green senior Matt Graham, manages the upkeep and conversion of Big Red Bikes. 

“Around campus, it seems kind of wasteful to me to have a car, especially if you live in the dorms,” Graham said.

There are approximately 60 bicycles available for rental from Big Red Bikes.

Usually, they are all checked out. Graham said every last bike was reserved by 10 a.m. the very first morning of the semester.

Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan oversees the program. To Ryan, sustaining the supply of bicycles is a constant obstacle. 

“We are unable to meet demand,” she said. “Students come in to borrow bikes every day, and much of the time we are unable to provide a bike for them as none are available.”

Graham said that much of the use comes from international students. Many of them can’t bring their car or other transportation with them to school. Instead, they rent a bike.

Next to the office is a building used for international student housing. The residents had three Big Red Bikes outside, one belonging to Beijing, China graduate student Louisa Li.

“We use the bikes because we don’t have cars,” Li said. “It’s very convenient.”

The pay for Graham and the cost of new brakes and other bike parts are covered by various grants to the program. They currently do not pay for any of the bicycle frames themselves.

“There’s a lot of different things we could do with more funding,” he said. “One thing is we could start buying some better, cheap frames. We would still recycle some, but a lot of these bikes take a lot of work to get them up the Hill. Most people have to get off and walk.”

As he works in his tire-filled basement, Graham knows that the demand will stay high. He contemplated all the positives while pulling screws from a damaged frame, and eventually he landed on one that may be the clincher. 

“It makes traffic not really an issue,” Graham said. “I can avoid the lights. And the biggest plus is you don’t have to deal with student parking.”