Bicycle Bill: A Childhood Love for Bikes Keeps Him Going
Bill Harpster works on a bike in the Cycology bicycle repair shop in the Murdaugh Hall basement, Thursday, April 5, 2012. Photos by Garett Fisbeck, The Vista
By Garett Fisbeck / Photo Editor
The relocated Pennsylvania man in the blue matching shirt and shorts is quick to offer solutions to broken handlebars and flat tires. He works in the basement of an all boys dorm with no ventilation, metallic-silver walls, a leaking roof, and no view, but he doesn’t need one.
“After years in a truck, I’ve seen enough stuff.” Bill Harpster, UCO Cycology bicycle mechanic, said.
“Bicycle Bill” has tried his hand a several different trades – truck driving, corning glass, car mechanic, but childhood love of bicycles always kept him coming back to working on them.
“It was one of those first summertime jobs. I did that for a couple years, then I did a lot of other things, and then I decided that, in the big picture, bicycles were the best,” Harpster said.
Not only does he enjoy the work that goes in to bicycle repair, he also talks about other things that enrich his life.
“You get to meet people, it’s healthy, it doesn’t really harm the environment in the aspect that we’re not building flamethrowers or producing acetone. It’s pretty environmentally friendly.”
Harpster arrived in Oklahoma when he and his wife were on trip and he herniated a disc in his back in Texas.
They ended up staying in Oklahoma, where the couple’s trucking company was stationed and where they owned ten acres of retirement land in Luther. They had bought the plot two years prior.
He started working at Al’s Bicycle in Edmond and continued working there for four years, until coming to UCO to help with the Bum-A-Bike program.
“My plans weren’t to be in bicycles at this time, or to be in Oklahoma. That’s just how the dice rolled.”
Harpster says that the bicycle repair program is important to students, who may not have any other form of transportation.
“It’s kind of like a car mechanic for any other student. How will they get groceries? How will they get to their jobs? If their bike breaks down, it’s kind of handy have this right here so they can get it fixed,” Harpster said.
Regular turnaround time for repairs is usually one day, Harpster said, depending on the parts needed. The labor charge for repairs at Cycology are about one-half to one-third cheaper than bike shops off campus and even free to those who live on campus, Harpster said, but he still dislikes charging college students money.
“It’s hard to look a student in the eyes and say, ‘You owe five dollars’,” Harpster said.
International students commonly come to Bill’s bike shop to repair a broken down bike or to build one from the ground up. The students ride the bikes during their time here, and pass them off to the next student to come in.
“It’s kind of recycling,” Harpster said. “I’ve learned how to say ‘Hello’ in Korean, Chinese and Nepalese.”
Harpster says that his job is perfect someone his age, 53, because he gets to spend time with youth.
“You get to interact with a variety people from a variety of countries,” Harpster said. “I know what I’m doing, it’s not like doctors where you have to go back to school every year.”
Students on campus appreciate the services that Harpster provides, as well.
Freshman Cody White and his girlfriend, Tazira Mae, came in to the shop one day to rent Bum-A-Bikes, when White spotted a black mountain bike in the corner.
“Is this for sale,” White asked.
“It sure is. I’d like to get 35 bucks for that,” Harpster said.
White left the shop with a good-as-new bicycle.
“It’s a pretty good bike for the price,” he said.
Harpster says what he enjoys is teaching both American and international students life skills like how to use tools, which they may not have been exposed to in their home countries.
“I learn from them. I always ask them questions and they ask me questions. I ask them what they’re going to eat for supper. Most of them don’t like American food,” he said.
Things as simple as removing nuts and bolts are fascinating to some students. Day after day, Harpster works in the stuffy, leaking basement of Murdaugh Hall, both as a mechanic and as a teacher.
His grease stained hands continue working on broken down dumpster bikes; patching tubes, fixing brakes, and whatever the next problem may be, all while sharing life stories with students from all over the world.
“The older you get, your mind goes. You get slow in the mind, your eyes go. It suits me well... It suits me well.”