The epiphany came to Peter Martinez during a visit a couple of years ago to Washington, where he saw people renting bikes and riding around town.
“He came back and said, ‘I’ve got the idea,'” recalled Martinez’s business partner, Robert Soviero. “I said, ‘Brilliant. I’m in, too.'”
The two, who had met in a psychology class at Rollins College, had been brainstorming for their own business for a while. And, they quickly decided, a bike-share program was it.
So they began their quest, along with classmate Sarah Elbadri, to create SunCycles in Orlando.
Since then, they have won the contract from the city to place 200 bikes at about 20 locations throughout town, some of them near the four stations in Orlando for the SunRail commuter train, which starts carrying riders May 1.
They intend to have the bike operation, an investment eventually worth roughly $500,000, up and running late this year. And they hope to win contracts in other cities served by SunRail, such as Winter Park and Altamonte Springs.
Not bad for 2013 college grads — Martinez and Soviero earning bachelor’s degrees and Elbadri a master’s — entering a weak economy that is especially tough on young workers.
“I’m very excited to see what’s going to happen,” Elbadri said.
Elbadri, 24, now works in Miami Beach for CycleHop, which purchased SunCycles from her and her two partners. Martinez and Soviero, who also work for CycleHop, stayed in Orlando to get SunCycles going.
The three Rollins grads brought their own unique skill sets to SunCycles: Martinez is good with fleet maintenance and operations, Soviero with marketing, Elbadri with analysis and planning. They also share a love of bikes.
Elbadri, in fact, does not own a car, preferring to ride her bike to and from work at CycleHop in Miami Beach.
The car culture, around which Orlando and much of Florida has grown up, is slowly dying, in Elbadri’s estimation. Bike-share programs, she hopes, will hasten the demise, though she concedes it will not happen anytime soon.
The key to SunCycles’ success, Soviero said, is pretty simple: “Put butts in seats.”
Right now, Soviero said, he is concentrating on a low-key campaign of employing social media and taking their two demonstration bikes to just about any event or festival they can find. The white bikes, which rely on a drive shaft rather than a chain, have placards that say #bikeshare and #onelesscar.
“Get the buzz going,” said Soviero, 34, who previously worked in radio and promotions.
Soviero figures the riders will come from SunRail passengers, tourists and people looking for a little fun. Along with Martinez, he also is seeking a corporate sponsor for naming rights, similar to what happens with college bowl games or the stadiums where professional teams play.
The banking conglomerate Citi, for instance, placed its name on the bike-share program in New York City.
Martinez said he and Soviero are negotiating with several prospective sponsors, but he would not name them.
An Iraqi war veteran, Martinez moved to Orlando after leaving the Marine Corps. He worked in auto shops, in part because he had worked in fleet maintenance during his five years in the service. He intends to use that experience to keep the bikes in working order.
Costing $1,200 apiece, the bikes are equipped with GPS devices to allow Martinez and his cohorts to track their whereabouts and usage.
The bikes will cost $5 a hour to rent, and memberships are available
Amanda Day, project director of the cycle and pedestrian-advocacy group Bike/Walk Central Florida, said she is “excited, thrilled” that SunCycles is on Orlando’s horizon.
“As they expand,” she said, “it will encourage more people to bike.”