Green Living on Wheels – Take a Spin at a Bike Library
Joe’s post last week about riding a bicycle reminded me that I’m a bike-riding wannabe. I look with envy at friends, who ride with ease down our city streets, then cruise 50 miles down country roads in a single day. I’m awed by people my age — and older — who train for and ride in RAGBRAI (Register and Gazette Bike Ride Across Iowa), the annual bike trek across our state. While a trans-Iowa ride is not on my list of things to do before I die, I hear it’s a lot of fun. But that’s not what I dream of.
All I want is to cruise downtown to the library, ride to my local coffee shop, or zip over to a friend’s house like I did when I was a kid. (My office is a 20 step commute from my bedroom, so biking to work is out.) So what’s stopping me? I don’t have a bike.
Picking out a bicycle requires a commitment — not just a financial commitment, though a new bike can be as pricey as some of the second-hand cars I’ve owned. More than that, getting a bike requires an investment of time. It isn’t easy to pick out just the right bike, not when you expect to own it for years. And a bike requires a commitment of labor to maintain it. I learned to repair a flat tire when I was 10, but haven’t been called upon to do anything similar since. And, let’s face it, the fat-tire, single-speed transportation choice of my youth was a dinosaur compared to even the lowliest K-Mart, blue-light special you see on the streets today.
But, lucky for me, there’s a simple solution to my bike-envy woes. Thanks to the Environmental Advocates of Johnson County, I can borrow a bike from the Iowa City Bike Library for short trips, a season, or half a year, then take it back. No commitment required. All I do is pick out one of their 500 bikes, then give them a deposit (from $20 to $80, depending on the condition and style of the bike). Then I check out the bike for up to six months. The beauty of this is that I don’t have to find a bike that I’m going to love for the rest of my life. But, if I’m pleasantly surprised, and I do fall in love, I can make the bike of my dreams my very own by surrendering my deposit.
But this post isn’t just about me. If you’re in a similar situation — no bike, but would love to use one without a permanent commitment — there’s a solution. Bike libraries, which allow users to check out and return a borrowed bike, are popping up in cities around the world. It’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, exercise, and get where you need to go.
BIKE LIBRARY MODELS
There are three primary models of bike libraries, according to the International Bicycle Fund, from which the following information is quoted:
- “Let-loose: Multiple locations used for lending with no membership and no real tracking system. These programs tend to experience high rates of mechanical problems and rapid evaporation of their inventory, and subsequent burnout of volunteers.
- “Controlled Network: Several bike stations used for a short-term or relatively short-term lending/checkout program that involves membership and keeping track of who has the bike for how long. There is a high administrative/communications burden. Even so, inventory tends to get lost fairly quickly. High volunteer demand can lead to volunteer burnout and high volunteer turnover, which exhausts the program.
- “Single Source: One bike station used as a bike maintenance clinic and single source for bike lending—generally more long-term lending than quick trips around city. This is the furthest from the altruistic ideal, but it tends to be the most stable, and have the greatest longevity.”
WHERE TO FIND A BIKE LIBRARY
Here is a small sampling of the many bike libraries in various parts of the world. If you know of one in your area, feel free to post a comment and let others know. And if you live, or will be traveling, in one of these cities, be sure to check that city’s website to get the details.
Yellow Bike Action, Kingston, ON: Lease a salvaged bike for one day to four months for a small fee ($5 to $40) plus refundable $25 deposit.
Velib’, Paris: Borrow one of more than 10,000 bikes for a small fee.
Sandnes Green Bikes, Sandnes: You can borrow a bike for a day, entirely free, in the city of Sandnes.
Arcata Library Bike Program, Arcata, CA: Pick a bike. Pay $20 deposit. Check it out for up to six months. Ride on!
Buffalo Blue Bicycle, Buffalo, NY: A convenient, online program allows you to reserve a bike and get the code to unlock it at any of several bike library hubs in Buffalo. Use the bike from 2 hours to 2 days.
New Brunswick Bike Library, New Brunswick, NJ: Members only. $20 “grease fee” gets you use of workspace, tools, and volunteers’ wisdom. Work on your own bike, adopt a frame, or build a bike “from the ground up.” Members may also check out a bike for a one- or two-week loan. Volunteer time is required before checking out a bike.
Wildcat Wheels, Lexington, KY: Free bike checkout for University of Kentucky students, faculty, or staff.
Fort Collins Bicycle Library, Ft. Collins, CO: Free bike checkout for residents, visitors, and students. You’ll need to leave a credit or check card, but won’t be charged if the bike is returned in good condition.
UCSC Bike Library, University of California at Santa Cruz: Borrow a bike, a helmet, a lock, and lights. But first, go through a workshop on bike safety, tire changing, and more.
Orange Bike Project, University of Texas, Austin, TX: If you’re a UT student, you can check out an Orange Bike for an entire semester, just like checking out a book at the library.
PedNet, Columbia, MO: Here’s a bike library for employers and employees. Each bikes come with “helmets, locks, lights, rear racks and cargo bags.” Check them out for up to 60 days.
MORE GOOD STUFF
If your locale doesn’t already have a bike library, consider starting one. The International Bicycle Fund website provides information about starting a bike library or a corporate or government fleet. Topics include liability insurance, theft deterrents, tracking devices, and more.
And here’s another great resource for bicycle enthusiasts in the US and Canada. Austin’s Yellow Bike Project has put together a directory of bike-related resources like bicycle shops, bicycle clubs, and repair shops.
See you on the bike path soon!
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