Is it a good idea to lend your bicycle to a friend? How about lending thousands of bicycles a year to complete strangers?
That’s what the best-known bicycle-sharing service in the world has done since its launch in 2007. Velib serves Paris and 30 surrounding communities, making 20,000 bicycles available to credit card-equipped residents and tourists alike. Patrons of the system pay for a subscription to the service and then a bike rental fee for trips that last longer than 30 minutes (making the first half hour of any trip free, no matter how many individual trips you take during the day).
Velib has had its problems—from bike theft to uneven distribution of returned bicycles, leaving some of the automated rental stations with few or no machines and others with an overabundance—but it continues to serve Parisians and tourists and inspires similar efforts elsewhere.
One of those efforts in the United States is B-cycle, which has 11 locations, including Chicago, Madison, Wisconsin, and Des Moines, Iowa.
B-cycle is the offspring of three companies: ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Trek Bicycle and Humana, a health-insurance company. (By the way, the advertising connection isn’t a new twist on the bicycle-sharing concept. In Paris, Velib is a partnership between the city and advertising company JC Decaux.)
Ray Keener, who was on hand for the newest B-cycle launch in Boulder, Colorado, on May 20, says the system makes sense for “commuters who drive or bus into town and who’d rather run that mile or two lunchtime errand or ride to a meeting on a bike than fire up their gas guzzler (and lose their parking space!).”
And check out B-cycle’s own “B-effect” calculator. Plug in your zip code, and B-effect gives your community’s population and the number of B-cycles it would take to serve the area. (In Peoria, B-effect says 58 stands and 696 B-cycles. It also estimates that if 10 percent of the population rode 30 miles Peoria-area users would burn about 25 million calories and save 25,835 gallons of gasoline.)
Would B-cycle actually work in Peoria? I suspect not before a lot of work on other forms of bicycle-friendly infrastructure.
Note: Ray Keener is a Bike Industry Guy who makes web- and DVD-based staff training and consumer education programs, writes for the industry trade magazine, markets the industry supplier association, and fixes up Craigslist bikes for friends and family.
At one time, he owned Vitesse Cycle Shop in Normal, Illinois. (I worked at the Vitesse store in Peoria Heights for several years beginning in the early 1980s, well after Ray’s tenure with the company had ended.)
UPDATE: Momentum Magazine features a Streetfilms video on Hangzhou’s (China) bike-sharing program, which includes 51,500 bicycles.