May is National Bicycle Month. To celebrate, Ben Orcutt, an Anderson University student, and friends are going to bike everywhere on the third Friday of the month, which is National Bike to Work Day.
This isn’t uncommon for Orcutt, 22, who is more likely to be riding two wheels than four and spends most of his free time in a garage fixing up bikes for friends and strangers. [Photo: AU student Ben Orcutt, director of the Shadeland Bicycle Collective, works on a Schwinn Traveler in his garage.]
As the director of the Shadeland Bicycle Collective, Orcutt enjoys teaching people how to fix or even build their own bicycle. As the innovator behind this bike collective, one would think Orcutt grew up fantasizing about bicycles. Instead, he says he fell into bike repair, as if by accident.
“I first started working on bicycles because I was faced with the proposition of spending a month at home in Cincinnati after nearly two years away at college,” Orcutt says. “I didn’t know anyone at home except my family and I knew I would need a project to keep me busy. I decided that fixing up my dad’s old touring bike and doing some riding would be a good way to spend my time.”
While teaching himself how to tune up a bike, Orcutt wandered into the MOBO Bicycle Collective in Cincinnati. “I was able to use their tools, read their manuals and ask their mechanics for help,” he says. “I also helped a lady change her tire the first night I was there.”
Suddenly, the gears began to turn. “I was more than inspired by the idea of a bike collective,” he says.
Orcutt spent what he calls a “nomadic summer” riding his dad’s bike from Anderson to Illinois (a three-week journey), then over to Madison, Ind., and back to Cincinnati, to, yes, pick up another bike.
During his travels, Orcutt realized that there was more to cycling than just transportation and ecological awareness. “There was an independence I felt while riding, an empowerment I felt when helping others fix their bicycles and a new strength I saw in others when they experienced the same,” he says.
As a returning Anderson University student, Orcutt felt a longing to be part of the bike collective he’d visited in Cincinnati.
“As the next few weeks passed, I thought a lot about what a collective does. It empowers, it educates, it advocates, it offers sustainability. And these are all things that Anderson needs as much as Cincinnati or any other place.”
Orcutt and a friend started working on bikes locally in Anderson. This led to teaching kids bicycle repair at the STAR afterschool program, teaching residents at the The Christian Center and later, partnering with The Exodus House transitional shelter for a storage space in exchange for teaching bicycle repair.
Chad Schubert is executive director for The Shadeland Project, the nonprofit umbrella organization for the bike collective. Schubert says it is the group’s mission to work side-by-side with community members, sharing skills and knowledge while providing an alternative mode of transportation. “Not only will bicycle repair be accessible and affordable,” he says, “but after a person learns to fix their own bike, they can then keep it repaired and even teach others to fix theirs.”
Visit the Facebook fan page for more information on the Shadeland Bicycle Collection.
[Editor's note: In May 2010, thirteen participants from Anderson University biked to work during the National Bike to Work Day. AU participated in a local community challenge and had the most registered employees to win last year's traveling trophy.]
—Lindsay Conner is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Photo credit: Scott L. Miley. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.