March 29, 2006 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Free bikes! BikeTown will give away 600 bicycles this year to residents of NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Dallas, Houston, LA, Chicago, Detroit, Boise, Baltimore, MD (and the Gila River Indian Community in AZ). BikeTown research has shown that, on average, its participants rode 10 miles per week, mostly for pleasure or exercise. But more than 40% rode for transportation purposes, happily trading their car and the cost of gasoline for a bike...
posted by RockyChrysler (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That's a pretty clever idea. I hope/wonder if it will work out for those communities.
posted by grubi at 3:05 PM on March 29, 2006

Wow, that's neat. I really hope it works out for them. It reminds me of a group I heard about that wanted to give an environmentally-friendly lightbulb to every household in Canada. As far as I know they started from the east, and are currently working through Ontario.
posted by arcticwoman at 3:40 PM on March 29, 2006

This was really cool until I read the part of the legal release that says you get the bike from May 1st until August 1st, 2006.

So I get a bike for three months...pedal around and decide it's changed my life. Then I have to give it back?
posted by ArsncHeart at 3:52 PM on March 29, 2006

I was given a bike (though not by these people) two years ago after I 'gave up' my car. I pedaled around for a few months and decided it had changed my life for the better. when that bike was taken away from me (presumably by someone who needed it or the money they could get for it more) I had to purchase a bicycle in order to proceed with my changed life. oddly, my life was not much different having purchased a bike rather than being given one.

this is an excellent project.
posted by carsonb at 4:11 PM on March 29, 2006

So, they're trying to boot-strap conversions here. In some ways, it helps that the bike-receiver has to make an investment, since that means they'll take the bike more seriously, but, with enough resources, there's probably a better way to create buy-in. They're probably also boot-strapping their own organization.

This press release says that they get to keep the bike.

See also: The Create a Commuter program.

Oh. BikeTown doesn't look to be geared at low-income folks at all. Judging from all those sponsors, there's quite a lot of publicity synergy going on here, too.
posted by Skwirl at 4:30 PM on March 29, 2006

Yeah, in Philly it's Fuji bikes whose North American HQ is right on one of my local loops. Skwirl is right, there is some pretty serious publicity going on. Buycycling has been covering this for a few years. It's still a Good Thing. If this is the jump start that some folks need to ditch their car or even ride to the store for a quart of milk instead of driving, then I'll wear a Fuji t-shirt.

The president of Fuji bikes is going to speak at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia annual meeting April 9th. Maybe I'll ask him about it then.
posted by fixedgear at 4:45 PM on March 29, 2006

Biketown is actually not an organization at all, nor is it ideologically motivated, for the most part. It's a project of Rodale Publishing, publishers of Bicycling magazine. It's probably good exposure for the sponsors involved, and gets Rodale a few good articles and some positive exposure of their magazine. In general a thing like this that raises the profile of bicycling at all is great for Rodale and their sponsors, so it's not hard to understand.

Last year Cleveland was one of the cities in the program, thanks to some lobbying by a local bike shop owner. I work at a bicycle education co-op in the city, so I saw a bit of the process. Our directory lobbied to get some money to allow the recipients to get free "Bike Driver's Ed" classes, as we call them. A sponsor pitched in a few bucks, but only a few people took the classes.

Skwirl, you're right about it not being geared at low-income folks. The same person who lobbied to get the program in Cleveland managed to get one of our low-income members a bike, and he has used it pretty much every day since, but most of them went to people who had a good chance of making for a heartwarming article in Bicycling.

I am aware of another success story, though. My boss tells me that about 5 people took the riding course (and we used another one of the scholarships for a local city planner), but I personally knew one who took our repair classes, and she started riding and later decided she wanted a bike that was more fun, and donated her (rather nice) Biketown comfort bike to us. I'm guessing that she'll keep riding. There are probably folks like her in all of these towns.

It's mostly a marketing thing, but it's one that happens to have some good effects. At best, it probably does the same thing that I try to do every day at work - help people enjoy bikes. At worst, it probably doesn't hurt anyone.
posted by pinespree at 4:49 PM on March 29, 2006

you know, I went from a 14-mile/1 hour (each way!) commute on LA's 405 freeway to a 4-mile/10 minute non-freeway commute recently -- and I sold my sports car and got an old subcompact beater. Both of these things have been good for me, financially and emotionally, but I can't get a physical benefit unless I start, oh, being physical, so perhaps I need to start biking.
posted by davejay at 5:33 PM on March 29, 2006

OK, someone want to tell me why the sort-of icky feeling some of us get with getting middle-income-ish, mainstream (dare i say 'yuppie') people to commute by bicycle?

Cycle commuting and related 'lifestyle' are so often associated with "low-income", "alternative", and "non-mainstream" subcultures -- I was just at a 'Pedal Play' bike party thingy and it was full of dreadlocked, pierced, and tattooed Nouveau White Tribals and hippies -- is that really the dominant image of what it means to be a cyclist? If so, then i'm not interested -- and neither is the majority of fossil fuel burning commuters -- in joining that camp.

Really, it's nice to help low income people, but if you really want to make a difference, shouldn't someone be shooting for the mainstream and corporate crowd -- getting them to switch to cycle commuting using language, persons, and icons that they understand and listen to.

I mention this partly because it's a noticeably different driver interaction I get when I wear a $1000 suit and tie kit when riding my $50 beater bike to work (cover the suit in plastic when it rains).
posted by Extopalopaketle at 11:31 PM on March 29, 2006

Extopalopaketle: Good points.

Don't confuse 'cycle commuting' with 'car-free.' The thing about cycling is that it's such a big umbrella. Under that umbrella are, as you pointed out, pierced, dread-wearing and tattooed cycling lifestyle folks. Portland zoobombers, NYC messengers, Black LAbel Bike Club, SCUL, Minneapolis tall bikers and the like.

There are also car-free/voluntary simplicity folks, who might look a little different. Then there are the 'invisible cyclists' who were the subject of the only decent article in Bicycling magazine in the last five years or so. These are folks (think Mexican laborers) who cycle commute because they are dirt poor. They'll give up their bike as soon as they can afford a car, though.

You are absolutely correct in that if my employer (DoD, for example) wants to encourage people to cycle commute they need to make it something mainstream middle-classers can relate to. Maybe it's pointing out the health benefits. Maybe it's talking about the impact on the environment. The biggest appeal might be the one to their pocketbook, where we say we'll give you money - tax break, whatever - to cycle commute.
posted by fixedgear at 5:42 AM on March 30, 2006

I can't explain some people's ickiness with getting middle-class people to commute by bike, and I hope there isn't that much of it - I don't encounter that much of it. More often, I get the feeling from middle class people that the thought of commuting by bike is a joke, so far removed from reality that it's beyond consideration.

If you got the impression that I had that feeling, I spoke poorly. What does sometimes make me feel icky is giving lots of free stuff away to middle class people. Where I work, we make a point of making middle class people pay for their bikes and their education (we make everyone pay somehow, but the lower income people are more likely to pay with a little personal investment of time). This is not just because we don't have the resources to give it all away - it's also because it really is true that most people don't care about something if they get it for free.

Personally, I'm interested in seeing people ride bikes for transportation for many reasons - including environmental ones as well as their personal well-being. But it is consistently an easier sell to people who gain a real instant benefit (people who can't afford cars) than it is to people who accept a downgrade in mobility for a physical/psychological gain.

Incidentally, I'm of what you might call the "voluntary simplicity" class - I've chosen not to use cars, and as a result I've been able to choose a lifestyle where I actually couldn't afford one now if I wanted one. I also don't feel at home in either of the main cycling cultures that I come into contact with through work, those being upper-middle class 30+ primarily male club cyclists and mid-20s "cycling lifestyle" folks. For me personally, both of these fall short because they make bicycling such a big deal: for me, it's a nice way to get around, not a way of life, my chosen line of work aside. I think it would be helpful for there not to be such a gap in perception between recreational cycling and transportational cycling - a gap that is promoted by publications like Bicycling, along with pretty much everyone else in the industry, with a few exceptions.

Recreational cycling is "cool" - you buy expensive things, wear fancy costumes and ride fast. Transportational cycling is not nearly as glamorous - you ride a cheap bike, wear your work clothes, ride slow so you don't get sweaty, and don't get to show off your $30,000 car that you bought to show off, so everyone thinks you're broke. This takes some getting used to. :)

Maybe someone should be out there pushing for the mainstream and corporate crowd. I certainly try to nudge them in my work, but we don't have the resources to be doing the "pushing", especially if we're trying to push a river - our job can only really be to make it easy for them once they make their choice. And I couldn't even begin to think of how to bring more people around to the choice - it's a massive shift in most people's minds to move even that one trip a day onto the bike.
posted by pinespree at 6:10 AM on March 30, 2006

I would love to commute by bike but I live on top of a large hill. Anyone have any suggestions? My ride would only be 5 milrs each way, but that hill is a killer.
posted by cell divide at 6:17 AM on March 30, 2006

pinespree: You are spot-on about the gap in perception between recreational cycling and transportation cycling, but that is a USA only construct. In the UK mainstream cycling publications like Cycling Plus cover a much broader area that Bicycling does here. I ride with the classic white-collar college-educated recreational club and I'm one of the only ones who uses a bike for anything but recreation. I'd think that the converts to cycle-commuting might come from the ranks of club cyclists, but it almost never happens.

cell divide: Use low gears and spin lots.
posted by fixedgear at 7:24 AM on March 30, 2006

From the prgoram Legal Release:
"I am not a candidate for public office and will not become a candidate for public office for one year after
the appearance of the first written materials detailing my participation in the Program."
I'm not planning on running for public office any time soon, but would I be willing to give up the ability to do so in exchange for a free bike? Why is this one of the terms?
posted by andrewraff at 8:53 AM on March 30, 2006

fixedgear, it's always great to hear that things are better somewhere out there....

cell divide: I work at the bottom of a medium hill, and my commuter/touring bike has extremely low gearing (I regularly get ridiculed for it by sporty types). Achieving gearing as low as mine will pretty much always require some aftermarket parts, so it can be expensive, especially if you need to pay someone for labor, but it would make the trip up the hill relatively easy, if slow. My lowest gear uses a 26 tooth chainring in the front and a 34 tooth sprocket in the back. Lower is possible; email me if you'd like suggestions on how to implement it.
posted by pinespree at 9:19 AM on March 30, 2006

while several commentors have raised some important points about this give-away program and its intent to target middle-income folks in large population centers, i think it's worth noting that the gila river indian community is also included in this program. these folks, the pima people, have one of the most astounding cultural problems with diabetes that can be found in the world today. riding bikes as part of a regular program of exercise can only help...
posted by RockyChrysler at 11:53 AM on March 30, 2006

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