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Set Up a Fleet of Free-Use Bikes

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The idea I am about to divulge has been on my mind for years. I really want to do it, but have never had the circumstances at the right times. Perhaps someday! In the meantime, you are very welcome to use my idea. Enjoy & prosper!

I'm thinking about providing a city or town with a fleet of free-use bicycles. These are bikes which carry a sign stating something to this effect:

"Free Use Bike. Ride it wherever you want within city limits, then leave it for someone else to ride."

The power of such a fleet to bring awareness of bicycle commuting to the general public is large. For your own ego, it would be a blast, because you would soon become known as the person who did it!

But how do you get paid for it?

Here are a few ideas:

Leave space on the signs which are fastened to each bike for a sponsor's logo. Then approach the local merchants and industries (and perhaps national ones) about purchasing this unique advertising space. One way to advertise that you are doing this, is to have the signs say something like "This space for rent" until they are rented.

Let it be known where you are located. Let it be known that you do bicycle repairs of high quality for a competitive rate. The bicycle fleet may be all the advertising you need to get lots of bike repair business.

Look for private or public sponsorship. Possibly the city or someone has funds to support such a community-spirited venture.

In all the publicity you're bound to get, let it be known that you accept donations, especially bicycles and parts. Put some of the bikes you get into your fleet. Sell the rest.

Some points to consider:

What about theft? Yes, some bikes are bound to be stolen, but probably not as many as you'd think. There's no money in the kind of bikes you're likely to have in your fleet, old coaster-brake, three-speed, and thin-tired bikes which cost you little or nothing. You can help deter any theft that might still happen by painting all your bikes a bright color such as orange or yellow. Paint the spokes and undersides of the seats, so that if anyone were to try to steal one of your bikes, or parts from it, they would be frowned upon by those who see the telltale color on the parts.

If you are having a problem with parts disappearing, you could peen over or weld bolts, so that removing parts would be a difficult task. If you have a torch to weld the bolts, then you'd also have one to cut bolts, in the case that you have to maintain the bikes yourself. Seems like more bother that it's worth, to me.

What about safety? I think this is a major issue. You are inviting all types of people, in all sorts of mental states to ride your machines. Although overall it is a good service, and reduces the number of cars that will be on the road, and therefore increases safety and decreases pollution and noise, there are some situations that could develop. To protect yourself and your riders:

* Put the rules of the road in small print on every bike. Perhaps type them up on a small sheet of paper, and tape the paper to the handlebar or toptube of every bike.

* Among the rules of the road, make sure to tell people that you do not support riding the bikes when under dangerous influences. You might also exclude children below a certain age. I don't believe in arbitrary age discrimination, but don't see a better way.

* Also post on each bike that if one is found to be in incorrect mechanical condition, that the finder should take it to you for repair, or phone you and tell you which bike it is (number them), and where it is currently located. Or, if you are trusting, invite the general public to keep the bikes fixed.

* Expect that some bikes will be damaged, and some will disappear. This is an ongoing project.

* Keep the serial numbers from every bike you press into service. It feels good to positively identify anything over which there is any dispute.

* Whether or not your town has a helmet law, it might be a nice idea to provide a helmet with each bike. Hopefully the public would keep the helmets with the bikes. Perhaps you can devise a velcro fastening system to hold the helmets on the bikes when the bikes are not at use.

* Make sure your signage on each bike says something like "Ride only within city limits." You don't want to have to drive to Austin Texas to pick up a bike you put out in Syracuse New York.

* You might want to go out on inspection tours now and then. A big bike trailer or a pickup truck might be handy. You can bring back any bikes which need service, or stop and talk to anyone who is not riding safely. That would be an excellent community service in itself! You may not want to do this part of the business. Or this may be your favorite part. If there are parts you do not care for, consider partnership.

I've also given some thought to the idea of parking. There are times when someone may want to ride to the grocery store or a friend's house, and expect the bike to be there when they are done. I think the way to

handle this is to provide a shoestring with each bike, along with some instructions mounted on the bike. If the rider wants to hold the bike for a while, tie it to a bike rack or post with the string.

I may be wrong, but I don't think you should be too concerned about the possible negatives, such as dealing with out-of-control members of the general public. I think they will like and respect you for doing this service, as long as it is genuinely done in the right spirit. On the other hand, never apologize for needing to make money, and wanting to do it in a creative way!


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