Monday, August 9, 2010

Blue Bikes

I picked up my Aggie Blue Bike this morning and it's a gem.

An Aggie Blue Bike is a bike that a community member can rent from the Student Bike Center at Utah State University for a three month term, renewable pretty much as often as desired. The bikes are all used, some of them ill-used, but all have been lovingly rehabilitated by a dedicated student staff. Bike rental is free, but most people have to endure a tiresome online safety quiz before they can take possession of their bike. I was lucky enough to pick up my bike at a time when the apparently finicky system was "down". I'm a big believer in bike safety, but was grateful to have been spared that part of the bike rental process.

This kind of bike sharing is not entirely without controversy in the cycling community. Depending on whom you talk to, bike sharing isn't very effective in increasing the total number of bike trips in any given area. Many people feel that money being spent to develop new bike sharing programs like the metroradruhr program in the Ruhrgebiet, could be better used to improve bike infrastructure for riders. I re-visited this blog post at Ecovelo today and found a lot of the arguments against bike sharing to be fairly compelling. But I'm not convinced that any of those arguments are really relevant to the situation here on campus at Utah State. And in any case, I'm a bike sharer now, for better or for worse.

And these kinds of programs are growing in the US and in Europe too. Germany has had a nation-wide program in place for many years, sponsored by the Deutsche Bahn and very high tech. I don't know how successful it's been, but I can give anecdotal evidence that DB rental bikes sightings are becoming more common all the time. In many European cities, Barcelona and Paris, just for a few examples, large bike sharing programs are in place and the distinctive bikes are a familiar feature of the city center. Bike sharing is particularly big in the Ruhgebiet, as the map below demonstrates: the cluster of cyclist icons at the map center is the heart of the Ruhr, from Duisburg to Dortmund and each icon represents a bike sharing program. I've never used bikes in any of these programs, so I can't speak from personal experience, but I suspect that these bikes can only be really useful to a relatively small sector of the population.

Which brings me back to my Aggie Blue Bike. It's a clumsy monster of a bike and would hardly be useful for most of my riding purposes. But I plan to use it only on campus for those visits to places like the library, Student Union or our administration building. It's more than a fifteen minute walk across campus from my office and most of the way is level, paved and ideal for rolling along on big balloon tires. If bike sharing can ever make sense, then certainly this is the proper application. I'd like to see the program grow and serve more campus community members.

And I've got an even stronger, more personal reason for wanting the program to succeed: my Aggie Blue Bike is remarkably similar to the bike I learned to ride on nearly fifty years ago. I was only five at the time and needed to mount the bike near a fence or some other object I could climb on. My feet reached the pedals, but not the ground, so stopping could be a tricky maneuver. I needed to start up on a downhill run, and if my neighbor, Mr. Corr, was handy to give me a push, so much the better. But in many ways, it was the perfect bike for a kid. It was built like a Panzer and could be ridden at high speed right into a tree, house or car without any significant negative effect. It was a real looker too with a two tone red and white paint job and my dad used a stencil to paint my name on the chain guard. When I brought up this option with the USU Aggie Blue Bike staff members, they looked a little indignant, so I backed off. If I personalize the bike, I'll have to do it without their help.