When campus files into Sid Richardson College this Saturday for its annual '80s Party, students will wait impatiently for their escort along the xylem and phloem that is Sid's elevator. On this night, few students will venture down to roots below ground where one of Rice's lesser-known student businesses resides. This "underground" student business is Rice's only on-campus bicycle repair shop. Very recently founded, the shop first became operational in the spring of 2011.
"Back when I was a freshman, there was a program called 'The Color Cycle,' where they took the old, abandoned bikes from RUPD and spray-painted them and put them around campus in a rainbow array," Sid Rich senior Michael Fuad said. "A few of us ended up taking a few of those bikes and repaired them and starting using them. That's where the idea [for the shop] started."
Since that time in early 2009, the idea of opening a fully functional bicycle service and repair shop slowly became a reality for Fuad.
"We began applying for grants my sophomore year, and through Envision and Wiess' Bill Wilson, we were able to officially open for Beer Bike in 2011," Fuad said.
Last year marked the shop's first complete year as a business, but it has already become financially self-sustaining. At first, Fuad and fellow Sid Rich senior Ben Stark-Sachs donated their labor to get the business started, but they have since developed a business model that both pays the employees and keeps their small shop impressively stocked with parts and repair tools.
With the help of Hanszen College junior Shepherd "Shep" Patterson and Duncan College sophomore Fernando Ramirez, the shop has been working to standardize hours of operation for the semester. While the shop is open every weekend afternoon from 12-5 p.m., during all other times of the week, the employees recommend making an appointment by emailing email@example.com. Even though the hours appear limited, the shop is usually very accommodating in scheduling appointments during the week.
In addition to standard servicing and repairs, the shop also sells bike locks, helmets, lights, tubes and saddles at some of the most affordable prices in Houston.
"We are set up with a bike supplier, like any shop would use, and we order all of our parts through them," Patterson said. "We pay wholesale prices and have an incredibly small markup."
With little overhead, the Rice Bike Shop is able to pass on their wholesale savings to Rice students. For this exact reason, it also does not currently have plans to move out of its location in Sid's basement, a space that became available when Sid Rich permanently moved its weight room after the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center remodel.
"It's adequate," Fuad said. "It helps keep our prices low and keeps our stuff secure."
Even in this small space, the Rice Bike Shop community is excited for its second full year in business and has some big ideas for the coming years. It plans to accept credit cards soon, and eventually, it wants to offer mobile tire fixes and various repair workshops inside the shop.
"Ben [Stark-Sachs] and I have even been talking about creating a college course," Patterson said. "The 'final' would be a complete bicycle reassembly."
So far, this semester has been the shop's busiest yet. The staff has been working repairs almost continuously since school began three weeks ago and is just now starting to settle back down into a more normal routine. This routine includes taking unclaimed and abandoned bicycles that RUPD collects around campus and returning them to proper working order. These restored bicycles are then sold back to community. Right now, demand for these refurbished bicycles is extremely high, and the shop has been forced implement a waitlist. These bicycles typically cost around $60.
Fall semester at the shop sees mostly back- to-school repairs and basic maintenance on standard bikes, but during the spring, the shop takes a decisive turn toward performance.
"We work on Beer Bike bicycles," Fuad said. "Those are obviously really high-quality, top-of-the-line bikes."
While the shop mostly caters to the undergraduate population at Rice, it still offers its services to graduate students, faculty members, and Housing and Dining staff.
"We even had a student from the University of Houston who was taking a class here bring his bike by the shop," Patterson said.
Even though the Rice Bike Shop has not yet achieved the status of other student businesses, it plans to continue along its current path of slow and steady growth. It simply refuses to sacrifice on affordability and quality for the sake of expansion, and the management is comfortable with the shop's current steady revenue streams for the foreseeable future. The Rice Bike Shop is an excellent example of how entrepreneurial motivation can turn a good idea into an actuality.