Suggestions for Denver's new B-Cycle bike-sharing program

It doesn't take much for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper to put on a goofy getup for the photogs -- but yesterday he had a good reason for doing so. Hick strapped on an ungainly helmet and peddled around a city block in honor of the news that this summer the city will launch a bike-loaning program with the help of a $1 million donation from the Host Committee for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The bike-sharing program, whose origins were first reported on in the April 2008 Westword story "Free and Easy," will be called B-Cycle and feature at least 500 bikes and about thirty rental stations in and around downtown. While Denver won't be the first U.S. city to launch such a program (that honor probably goes to Washington, D.C., whose SmartBike operation launched last summer), it will be at the front of the pack. And considering this city's relatively flat downtown and amenable weather, B-Cycle will hopefully be as much a hit as the short-lived but popular Freewheelin free-bike operation was here during the DNC.

Of course, for the program to be successful, officials can't just toss the bikes to the masses and tell them to hit the streets. As the plan for B-Cycle comes together, here are a few lessons learned from other bike-sharing efforts.

  • Don't make it free. B-Cycle has already announced the bikes will cost a nominal fee per use, and riders will presumably have to offer up their credit card info beforehand so they're liable for lost or damaged bikes. That's good, because while this may seem like a no-brainer, many early bike-share programs, like Denver's Cheker Bike Program and Boulder's Green Bike Program in the '90s, foundered when their benevolently no-strings-attached cycles all ended up in the creek.
  • Let them out at night. Sure, LoDo at let-out is already crazy enough without giving the drunkards bicycles. But you have to give people what they want -- and people want to ride at night. D.C.'s SmartBike program has been knocked for its daily 10 p.m. curfew, especially since a quarter of all trips on Paris Velib' program, the mother of all bike-loan programs, occur between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.
  • Get ready for some hauling. One problem plaguing many bike sharing programs is that all the bikes tend to end up at a handful of rental stations. In Paris, for example, the bikes pile up at the bottom of the hills, since no one wants to ride up them. Here in Denver at the DNC, by the end of each day most of the Freewheelin cycles collected near the Convention hall. There's no easy way to stop this, so B-Cycle should be ready to continually redistribute its fleet. One solution would be to assign the hauling to a few of local pedicab guru Steve Meyer's "Pedal Pickups." That would keep with the whole foot-powered, carbon-neutral theme.
  • Spice up the fleet. Just because B-Cycle is all about saving the environment and keeping people healthy and blah blah blah doesn't mean they shouldn't get a little crazy with their offerings. One of the best things about the Freewheelin program this summer was the variety of bikes available. There were mountain bikes, cruisers, automatic shifters, tandems - even one that rocked a 6-pack holder and bottle opener. With options like that, everyone's going to want to look as silly as Hick on the city's new bikes.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner