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Student Tyler Orton, 23, has pedaled his way back from a rough start at George Mason University by taking a personal hobby to the next level.

A former jazz studies major at the university, Orton — who was paying his own way through college — had to drop out when the economy tanked.

An environmental advocate with a passion for bicycles, Orton regained his stride when he received an opportunity to pair hobby with salary.

“I’ve worked in bike shops basically since I moved down here [from Erie, Pa.],” he said. “[GMU] was looking for someone to help start up the bike program.”

Orton landed a paid internship during the summer of 2011 with the university to help organize a pro-bike campaign. He now leads the program, serving as Mason’s bicycle program manager.

Beginning this fall, GMU is rolling out a rent-a-bicycle program called Patriot Bikeshare. Paid for by a $36,000 in-house Patriot Green Fund grant, the program currently offers students, professors, staff and community members the opportunity to rent one of 20 bicycles stationed at four locations on the Fairfax campus: the Johnson Center, the Starbucks Coffee in Northern Neck Hall, the Shenandoah Parking Deck and the Quad by Krug Hall.

Mason students can buy a monthly pass for unlimited-use (two-hour blocks) for $6, with a 95-cent fee if exceeding the two-hour limit and a $1 charge for each additional half-hour of use. Daily subscriptions run $3 for a 12-hour pass.

“This is something we’ve been working on for a while following the trend of the Capital Bikeshare [available in Washington, D.C., and Arlington],” said Orton, who is back in school and now majoring in environmental and sustainability studies to support his pro-green efforts.

“With the success of the Capital Bikeshare, we thought it would be a success here,” he said.

So far, the number of users to try Mason’s bike-share program has exceeded Orton’s expectations.

“Our goal for the first semester was to have a hundred users and we’re already three months ahead of that,” he said. “We’ve had 500 usages … Currently, we have 20 bikes and the intent is to expand as soon as we can.”

Users also said they would like to see the program expand.

“I passed by the bikes on my way to my office. I bicycle for recreation and transportation, so I was interested,” said history professor Zachary M. Schrag, 42, who commutes by car to campus. “I use the bikes sporadically, mainly between the Johnson Center, near my office, and Northern Neck, which is on the way to the Rappahannock Parking Deck. If there were a Bikeshare station at Rappahannock itself, that would save me more time.”

Schrag added that the bicycles are easy to use and rent.

On the backside of each bike, near the seat is a three-light panel that indicates whether the bicycle is in use or available to rent. A red light indicates a bike is currently in use, yellow that it is locked and green means it’s good-to-go for renting riders.

Users have three options for checking out a bike. They can call 703-594-4050 to reach an automated system. They can text the same number with a user pin and the bike’s information, or they can use a mobile app — gmu.viacycle.com/m — to rent a bike.

The bike-share program is run by the university’s Office of Parking and Transportation. Users can register for a bike-share pass at www.gmu.viacycle.com/signup.

“I have always wanted to become a better bike rider and the [Patriot] Bikeshare is allowing me to bike on campus for a cheap cost, without the stress of managing upkeep on the bikes,” said GMU sophomore Roger LeBlanc, 19, an environmental and sustainability studies major. LeBlanc lives on campus. “I use the Bikeshare about once a week to get to the vegetable garden on the other side of campus or to go grocery shopping across the street. I have also used it when I’m running late for a class. Patriot Bikeshare is a really viable option if you are not ready to buy your own bike, or if you just need a bike for the day.”

hhobbs@fairfaxtimes.com