The University Record, November 26, 1997

Settles keeps equipment in top shape for exercisers

Trouble-shooter, repairman and putt-putt golf course designer Bill Settles works on a stationary bike (above), and a stairmaster at Recreational Sports. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Kerry Colligan

When I met Bill Settles, a machine mechanic for Recreational Sports, he was in the process of disassembling a stationary bike. "Did you know these things have an alternator in them?" he asked.

The cause of Settles' labor that afternoon? Poor design. After removing more than 40 screws in the outer casing, a belt here and a bolt there, and employing a modified wrench, Settles pulled two washers from his toolbox. "The bearings are inside this piece," he says holding a three-inch plastic nut. "But the nut is misaligned with the pedal shaft and it's causing increased wear."

"Uh-huh," I say.

"If you're riding the bike, you can't change the tension. It just gets easier and easier as the parts are stripped," he says. "All I have to do is put the washers in between and it'll be back in use."

It is that kind of explanation and service that makes Settles such a valuable part of the Recreational Sports unit, says Beverly Miller, administrative assistant in recreational sports. "He's always out and about; a lot of regulars know him by name. I see him explaining to people how the machines work and why they are set up the way they are. He's very good with customers."

Settles' friendly rapport with patrons makes his job easier, he says. "They talk to me," he says, "ask questions and explain problems." That gives him the heads-up on machine performance and trends in troubleshooting. And, because he is responsible for general maintenance and repair of more than 30 different models of cardiovascular equipment and more than 200 machines overall, a heads-up can give Settles the chance to prevent more serious problems.

"I put my heart and soul into trying to fix problems. If I don't try a potential solution, how do I know it isn't right?" he says. "I love trying to figure things out, to see what makes things tick."

Debrah Webb, Settles' supervisor, agrees. "He can be pretty creative with his repairs. He is not afraid to take everything apart. He enjoys the challenge of trying to solve mechanical problems."

However, not all of his creativity goes into repairs. He has modified Stairmaster machines, adding support brackets and cup holders to the information panel. Many of the NordicTrack machines now have a book clip so patrons can exercise and read. He reconstructed and modified a climbing wall for the University's outdoor adventures program.

His creative talents and general knowledge of machines have been put to use outside the University as well. Exercise equipment manufacturers like NordicTrack have consulted Settles for troubleshooting and design improvements, according to Webb. Recently, Settles informed NordicTrack designers that unnecessary wear was resulting from dirt accumulating in the foot pedals. The latest version of the NordicTrack has a modified wheel well to allow dirt to be expelled from the machine during normal use.

In seven years at Recreational Sports, Settles has taken note of a few trends. "When students come back from breaks, they all want to exercise. Then they get into their book work and it dissipates," Settles says with a smile. "A lot like New Year's resolutions for the rest of us." Even so, in a table of maintenance and repairs kept on each machine, Settles notes that some of the stationary bikes log 3,000 miles per month. "The bikes just aren't built for that rate of use. I don't know how many of these alternators I've had to replace," he says, shaking his head.

Not all repairs arise from high usage rates. Misuse, according to Settles, accounts for almost as many mishaps. "If it's going happen," he says, "it's going to happen here." He's rescued entangled headphones from the gears of a stationary bike. He helped one patron remove her shirt from a rowing machine, after she was forced to take off her shirt to find help. (Readers, don't be embarrassed. If this sounds like you, you're not alone.)

During the summer, Recreational Sports sponsors Camp Adventure for kids ages 612. Settles built the kids a putt-putt golf course. It's little things like cup holders, book clips and putt-putt that make Settles different.