Ren Barger with donated bicycles in Tulsa Hub’s downtown warehouse, where bikes for children and adults are stored. Hub volunteers will eventually refurbish the bikes so they can be used for the Hub’s various service programs.
Ren Barger is an avid cyclist, but you might not be able to tell just by looking at her.
Today, she is wearing a long floral coat, bright-yellow scarf and heeled boots. And although her bicycle has been her primary mode of transportation for the day, she does not need a change of clothes. All she needs is a sturdy helmet and she’s ready to go — to work, to her home near downtown or to complete any number of errands.
Barger, 28, says she doesn’t need to spend money on specialized cycling clothing. If she can walk in heels, she can ride in them. And she says she hopes other Tulsans begin to follow suit.
As executive director of Tulsa Hub, a nonprofit bicycle resource center and “human-power incubator,” according to its website, Barger is focused on using bicycles to advance employment, equip individual mobility, promote wellness and empower self-determination. Barger and others affiliated with the all-volunteer organization work to achieve these goals through advocating for bicycle transportation, offering adult and youth bicycle safety education classes and providing a resource center for Tulsa’s burgeoning cycling community.
Barger, an Oklahoma native who became a vehicular cyclist while living in Chicago, is obviously excited about the Hub’s potential. Walking through the Hub’s nondescript downtown warehouse, past row upon row of donated adult and children’s bicycles, she describes the many gains the organization has made since it began in 2008.
There are the continuous donations of bicycles — from individuals, corporations and even Boy Scout troops, which host drives to collect bikes for underserved adults and children in the community. Hub volunteers refurbish the bikes.
There is the Hub’s Active Transportation Education and Advocacy Clubs, which have been implemented in seven community elementary schools in the Tulsa and Union public school districts. Supported by grassroots fundraising, the clubs provide bicycle safety training, and individuals and groups can donate bicycles for current and future students to use.
There is also the Adult Cycling Empowerment (ACE) program, through which local United Way agencies refer adults in the community who need a mode of transportation. After two to four hours of working in the Hub’s workshop and six to eight hours of safety training, program participants can earn a bike — opening opportunities for those who are underemployed because they don’t have access to public transportation to find jobs.
“Using a bicycle (in conjunction) with public transit can definitely launch somebody into being employable, and that’s the main data we’re looking to collect is that giving a bike equals being able to seek and then maintain work,” Barger says.
While the Hub is focused on helping Tulsa’s underserved populations, it wants to reach another audience as well — people who already have jobs but want to learn how to use a bike as a vehicle.
“There is a large culture that is built around the Tulsa Hub,” Barger says. “A lot of us are younger, a lot of us are midtowners because it’s super-efficient to get around on a bike. I have the great fortune of living close to downtown, so I am pretty literally on my bike all the time, running all my errands I need to do.”
She says that while Tulsa has a community of cyclist commuters, there is potential for this group to grow. But, she says, there are barriers — fewer cars on the road means less revenue from gas taxes, for example. So Barger also talks with local and state lawmakers about the value of cycling and resources necessary to make it a viable option for people in the community.
“It’s definitely not as practical to talk about a larger population of people looking at bikes as vehicles until we have the infrastructure to match their needs,” she says.
Those interested in cycling can gather at the Hub’s other space, located at 601 W. Third St., from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday nights to drop off bicycle donations or ask questions about cycling. (Appointments are encouraged.) Barger is also seeking a long-term home for the Hub, one with a parking lot for bicycle safety classes and a capacity to eventually offer showers and storage for commuters.
“Of course, we want to serve the underserved first, and then there’s a growing body of people who are interested and starting to use their bikes more for transit, and I love it that we’re speaking to those people right here because then we have people who can help us out with our service projects,” Barger says.
Overall, Barger says that by aiming to ride their bikes to work once a week, Tulsans will see the benefits of this mode of transportation — they will be more energized, potentially avoid traffic jams and save money.
And, she says, she hopes that they have fun in the process.
“We (Tulsa Hub) want to identify with the joy of cycling, with being in a community of people who are a little more conscientious and they want to take more ownership in their ability to not be so reliant on something that could break down, that could run out of gas,” she says.