The United States debuted its first large-scale bicycle share scheme - B-cycle - in Denver, Colorado, which went live at noon on Thursday, 22 April – the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
With an initial start-up inventory of roughly 400 bicycles scattered across 40 stations throughout the downtown and key surrounding areas, the program aims to help the city's residents and visitors increase their daily activity levels, become more efficient as they go about their regular errands, and save money in the process, all while helping to "break up the transportation monoculture of the internal combustion engine."
Denver's 'B-cycle' system – a partnership between the Trek Bicycle Corporation, health insurance provide Humana, and advertising and design powerhouse Crispin Porter + Bogusky – closely mimics bike-sharing systems commonly used throughout Europe. Users will retrieve a bike from any available 'B-station', go about their activities, and then return to any other B-station. So-called 'maintenance and rebalancing' crews will remotely monitor the status of each station so that bikes are always available and that stations can always accommodated a bike being returned, as well as perform regular servicing to ensure that bikes are in consistently good condition.
Pricing is geared specifically towards short-term use with access fees ranging from US$5/day (available right at the B-station kiosk) to US$65 for an annual pass. There are additional usage fees from there, ranging from free for trips under 30 minutes to a maximum of US$65 per full day. Lost, damaged or stolen bikes will incur up to a US$1,000 penalty.
The B-cycle system is intentionally simple from an end-user standpoint – just pay, grab, and go – but there's an impressive amount of technology behind it.
Denver's new B-cycles aren't groundbreaking in terms of what they are but rather what they can collectively do
First are the bikes themselves, which obviously won't wow people for their lightweight, aerodynamics or suspension performance but look to admirably fulfil their utilitarian aims without being overly banal in the process.
The step-through frames are made of TIG-welded aluminium to ward off rust, Shimano Nexus three-speed internally geared hubs provide a reliable transmission, low-maintenance drum brakes are fitted front and rear, and there's also a front hub dynamo to power the front and rear lights. The rear light even houses a capacitor so that it remains lit when the bike is stopped at intersections and as an extra precaution, there are traditional front, rear, side and pedal reflectors plus reflective tyre sidewalls.
A sturdy basket up front
The integrated coil lock doubles as a cupholder when not in use
Up front there's also a sturdy basket to house your belongings plus an integrated cable lock that cleverly doubles as a cupholder when not in use. The adjustable seatpost is designed to accommodate a wide range of rider heights, too, while its uncommon diameter and integrated stop prevent theft.
"It's a bike that was designed from the beginning specifically for bike sharing," B-cycle project and logistics manager Jason McDowell told BikeRadar. "A few goals we had in mind were durability for obvious reasons, we wanted to minimize maintenance as much as possible, and we wanted it to fit the widest variety of sizes of people and at the same time provide decent handling for those people."
Each bike will also have a RFID chip embedded in the fork so that the B-stations can identify specific bikes – and pull them out of circulation if one is tagged as needing service – while an additional GPS tracker will log distance travelled. Users can later access their accounts online to view their usage as well as other bits of info like calories burned. Moreover, the collective information will also prove useful to system administrators who can then calculate higher-impact metrics such as the system's effect on carbon emissions.
Standard fenders, side guards and chain covers keep users from getting dirty
Naturally, B-cycles are designed to be ridden in street clothes so other features are included so that operators don't have to worry about getting dirty from road debris or chain lube. Full-wrap fenders are fitted at both ends, the chain and crankset is mostly enclosed, and additional guards on the sides of the rear wheel prevent clothing from getting caught.
The rear guards, front basket and a front shroud over the top of the dual-crown fork also provide lots of advertising space, much of which has already been purchased.
"The idea there is to make the system as financially self-sufficient as possible and that goes a long way," McDowell continued. "You can make a whole lot of money with this sort of prime real estate in terms of advertising in these kinds of urban areas."
In conjunction with the title funding from Kaiser Permanente Colorado and additional major support from the Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee, the Walton Family Foundation, the Anschutz Foundation, Gate Family Foundation, the University of Colorado Housing Authority, and the Gary Williams Company – not to mention a healthy US$210,000 federal grant – Denver B-cycle is designed to be self-sufficient with no monies coming from city tax coffers.
McDowell stresses that while B-cycle is a Trek operation, its primary objective is not to make money – at least not directly.
"The inspiration and motivation for B-cycle came from [Trek president] John Burke's vision of using the bicycle to address three huge, global issues that everyone is facing: congestion, global warming, and obesity," he said. "When we launched 1 World 2 Wheels [Trek's commitment to "make the world a more bike friendly place", launched in 2007], that was the catalyst that really sparked a big movement in addressing those three things. Bike sharing is a really natural progression from the initial 'Go By Bike' movement."
Denver, Colorado's downtown and surrounding areas are now home to 40 fully functional B-cycle bike-sharing stations.
Denver's comprehensive array of wholly separate bike paths and designated bike lanes combined with the city's gentle grades and plentiful sunny weather made it an ideal location for the debut B-cycle system. Provided the program is successful, though, other cities are sure to follow suit.
"With more people on bikes, more cities will become bike-friendly and then more people will purchase bikes on their own," he continued. "The more people there are on bikes, the better it is all around. And the more bicycle-friendly the nation becomes, everybody comes out ahead."
More information can be found at www.bcycle.com.