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Community Bike Programs - Bike Libraries - Bike Sharing: Case Studies





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If you have questions or expertise about community bike programs, please join the email-based Community Bike Forum.  The discussion focuses on community bike, earn-a-bike, free-bike, bike library, bike sharing and other forms of cooperative bicycle programs. It provides those new to the movement an opportunity to get information that will help them along and those with experience an opportunity to share their knowledge and further expand the movement.  To subscribe send an e-mail to [email protected].   Please forward this information to others who might be interested.

Primary bike sharing / bike library Models:

  1. Let-loose: Multiple locations used for lending with no membership and no real tracking system.  These programs tend to experience high rates of mechanical problems and rapid evaporation of their inventory, and subsequent burnout of volunteers.
  2. Controlled Network: Several bike stations used for a short-term or relatively short-term lending/checkout program that involves membership and keeping track of who has the bike for how long. There is high administrative/communications burden.  Even so, inventory tends gets lost fairly quickly. High volunteer demand can lead to volunteer burnout and high volunteer turn over, which exhausts the program.
  3. Single Source: One bike station used as a bike maintenance clinic and single source for bike lending - generally more long-term lending than quick trips around city.  This is the furthest from the altruistic ideal, but it tends to be the most stable, and have the greatest longevity.

One factor that seems to boost sustainability is personal ownership of and investment in bikes. For example, ask for nominal money or volunteer commitment for each bike distributed in order to deter bike-trashing.

Also, having a single location with regularly scheduled shop hours helps build community, increases our volunteer base, and ensures that there is enough income to keep the program going..

The idea of bike sharing fabulous, but bike lending/adopting seems to work better. You don't have to abandon all the sharing -- you still can share tools, skills, good humor, etc.

Rainbow of Free Bikes!!!

By: Ernst Poulsen and David Mozer

In the spring of 1995, 1000 free bicycles were placed in the inner region of Copenhagen. Nine months later the special bicycle stands installed for the program were often empty or only occupied by one or two broken specimens of the specially designed and easily recognizable bicycles. But the organizers are not discouraged and this year the program will be twice as big.

The Copenhagen program is one of dozens of free-bike programs in Europe and North America, in communities as diverse as Denver, CO, Portland, OR and Olympia, WA. All the programs are cut from the same wheel, but each has its own spin, somewhat reflected in the names: white bike, pink bike, yellow bike, green bike and checked bike.

The basic structure of Copenhagen's "white bike" program is that special designed bikes (painted white) are placed in specially designed stands in the central city. The bicycles can be released from the stands by depositing a 20 DKr coin (~US$3). Everyone is allowed to use the bicycle for as long as desired within the inner city of Copenhagen. When the bicycle is put back in one of the official stands the coin is returned. If the bicycle is parked away from one of the official stands anyone is free to return the bicycle and collect the deposit. The bicycles are also fitted with signs for advertising. Revenue from advertisement on the bicycle goes toward repairs and new bicycles.

As you might imagine there is a need for continual maintenance. A search team picks up both broken bicycles, and bicycles which how been taken out of the city, and a another team of mechanics keep the bicycles in good shape. In addition, the bicycles are equipped with a small chip which makes it fairly easy to track them down. Finally the bicycles have a unique design so that no part on the bicycle will fit on ordinary bicycles. The frame is unisex and the height of the saddle is adjustable to fit bicycle friends tall or small.

When the original project was launched it was hoped that money from advertisement and sponsors would make the project financially self-sustaining, but a year later the organizers acknowledges that that this has not happened.

he project has been reorganized and is now the Municipality of Copenhagen. One major improvement for the second year is the police have promised to persecute people who take the bicycles beyond the inner city lake ring. The fine is 1000 DKr (US$170). "Last year people did not know that they were not allowed to take the bicycles beyond the inner-city lake ring", Ole Wessung, one of the organizers, explains. "Many people took the bicycles home and kept the bike in the back yard until next morning. This year the rule is carefully explain on every single bicycle. The basic idea is still to provide a bicycle for those trips which are too long to walk - or to short for a bus or train-ride."

Evolution of Bike Share Schemes

by Dave Holladay
Transportation Management Solutions

You might mention Portsmouth (UK) as perhaps the first operational second generation bike hire system (Bikeabout 1996) which had a Dutch iteration in Rotterdam (1997) both had regulation problems - all bikes went to one location but not the other(s) and Portsmouth had a free shuttle bus on a parallel route.

The key to success seems to be the density of provision in the operating area for CityBike schemes Copenhagen has 2500 bikes in an area of 9 sq km with fines of DKr 1000 for any bikes found outside the city zone (conveniently defined by a circular canal and bridges). The CIOS bikes are in Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Aarhus. All are taken off the streets and rebuilt every Winter, and operating costs are covered by branding the bikes. Unlike the Decaux and Clear Channel schemes the operation is a run as a not for profit Foundation. The bike servicing is carried out by a job rehabilitation scheme.

OV Fiets and Nextbike are not quite that sort of scheme as both rely on return of bikes to a core location and Call-a-Bike has been changed subtly to Call-a-Bike-fix in Stuttgart to avoid the many users parking bikes off-hire. OV Fiets has 100 locations at commuter destination stations and is specifically targetted at commuters, a free scheme has been set up in Inverness (Hitrans), using staff already working at a 24 hour car park to hand out the bikes.

NextBike is a sort of upgrade of Bananarent - a discredited scheme in W London which placed bikes on public cycle parking without first obtaining permission, now believed to be defunct.

The Decaux, Clear Channel, and Cemusa scheme all have large typically 15+ bikes installations with hard wiring and inefficint use of space for bikes - typically 15 bikes = 2 parking bays, but any smaller would probably not be viable for poster advertising. Prague, OYBike, and the Vipre Hourbike all use the Homeport unit with 3 ports - used for securing grocery deliveries and adapted for bike hire. OYBike uses mobile phone technology and can fully set up a hire point in 10-20 minutes.

Most serious City Bikes use a public transport bicycle - rather like the special vehicles used for bus and taxi work - the bikes tend to be heavier than a normal private machine, and simlified to minimise maintenance - the CIOS bike has no gears, a coaster brake, and foam filled tyres - hardly anything to need adjusting or break. Others follow this pattern, and will typically spend 3 years or more in service. Hire bikes like this are rarely stolen - like buses and London Taxis, they have no real use as private bikes and are obviously taken from the operator's fleet, besides the bikes hardly stand still as they are always being hired....

Despite the impression that Decaux is the only show in town DC is about to get Clear Channel and AF has interest for Cesuma with OYBike (with condsiderably less resources to back them made a show for Chicago and other cities). Ironically Clear Channel - who offer their product witout the advertising baggage are supplying the Barcelona scheme 200 bikes in March 2007 now up to 3000, 90,000 registered users and 6000 bikes by next year 1 million hires by July 2007 Ironically Decaux has the contract for on-street advertising media.

I'd be interested to learn what has happened to Roue Libre, the significant bike hire operation in Paris (2000 bikes) which was integrated with RATP (bus/Metro/RER) and supplied bikes for the mass ride in 2003. They actually had the solution to the Montmartre problem (everyone cycles down but not up filling the bottom level spaces so there is nowhere to park a bike and leaving the top spaces empty) Roue Libre has been around for over a decade. In Barcelona you are penalised for keeping bikes longer than 3 hours, and the scheme was set up specifically to avoid extraction of business from the tourist & leisure cycle hire which already existed - just as well as the current subscriber numbers are being restricted until the fleet size catches up to be 300% bigger than originally planned.

Worth noting that OYBike has 3 business parks, 2 local government boroughs as workplace pool bike schemes, 2 university campus schemes, and their original London Borough of Hammersmith scheme still running, and an arrangement for bikes at London sites of a hotel chain, - shrink the scale of the map on the website to see all locations (Southampton, Reading and Farnborough are all some distance away from London). It may also be the only scheme to offer subscribers an insurance scheme - for an extra £10/year you are insured against losing or damaging the bike, they also set no prescribed cost for loss or damage.

One detail I'd like to check that seems a bit clouded - Paris costings suggest E70 million spent on the installation - was that the 750 hire sites or the full 1500 to be in service by next year? and did it include the bikes reported to cost E1300 per bike (i.e. an additional E0 or E27million depending on how the sums are done).


By Allen Brown

The main thing is:

  1. Have a physical space
  2. Make cycling fun and sexy so all the students will want one.
  3. Make coffee and drinks either for sale or available as part of the membership.
  4. Make the students become members so they contribute.
  5. Allow poorer overseas students etc offer hours instead of money to enable a critical mass of help.
  6. Give those without mechanical knowledge other jobs such as publicity.
  7. Advertise in the student newspaper.
  8. Leave bikes parked outside for publicity.
  9. Paint all the bikes the same for publicity
  10. Remove the bull horns from racers and replace with a flat bar as students prefer this.
  11. Buy reflective safety red tape and place on the bikes so that users are seen in the event the lights on the bike do not work.
  12. Get some ties and perspex and approach the shops on campus and other local business to gauge an ad interest. If the bikes parked outside the library and IT centre then this is good advertising , for eg the local hair dresser may offer a Special on Cuts for students during November etc.
  13. Engage bike shops as they may be interested to help
  14. Create an awareness via flyers
  15. Do a survey during orientation week to seek interest.
  16. Do on and off rd tours by bike to attract those who love cycling and who already have a bike.
  17. Develop a tour of say " wealthy Colorado people mansions tour etc, or bear watching tour by bike or a chocolate discovery tour.
  18. Ensure that the powers that be know that you are a professional outfit, you know how to fix bikes and that all the bikes have been certified by the local bike shop mechanic.
  19. Develop a check list for all bikes before leaving.
  20. Try to see if you can get a swipe system
  21. We had a bond of $50 per semester and a $20 membership fee. Ensure the members do not expect the service typical of a regular bike shop.
  22. Allow people to donate and fix things yourselves.
  23. Makes other things such as tables from bike wheels or belts from old tires to sex up the membership.
  24. Get a logo and have it on sweats and all the members will have one when they join.
  25. Be open only a set day dependent on the students study and class schedule
  26. Ensure the workshop is tidy at all times to prevent injury and academics and admin staff getting annoyed and trying to dismiss the program.
  27. Network with others in the surrounding town.
  28. Lastly do not over do it as you are there to pass subjects initially, although you could do a paper on your project or use it as work experience.

Burn Out is a problem, but try to make it fun for all.

Some good advice is food, wine and fun. Work first then reward, The chats after the work with wine helps cement the network.


If you've been to Denver, perhaps you've seen a "Cheker Bikes" on corners. Maybe you've taken one for a ride. Cheker Bikes is a public transportation system. Donated bicycles are refurbished and painted, then placed in locations around the metro area as free public transportation. The bikes are highly visible, and cleverly painted, with advertising messages on the baskets.

In a symbiotic relationship, Cheker Bikes works with inner-city youth to provide them with basic bike mechanic skills, plus the training to help them develop their own businesses. Besides keeping Cheker Bikes rolling, it is hoped that the positive reinforcement will keep the kids out of gangs, and teach them the basics one needs to contribute to our ever-changing society.

Additional benefits of the program are: More people on bikes means less people in cars. That means less air pollution and ease in over-crowding. People who cycle more often will no doubt feel the results of better health and physical fitness. And hopefully Cheker Bikes will play a strong role, in helping Denver's citizens to rediscover their neighborhoods and their neighbors. And that's what it's all about.


In April 1996, the Olympia Bike Library installed 32 "free to use" bicycles in downtown Olympia.* The bicycles are painted pink, offer utilitarian carrying capacity, and are available for community use. The bike library works on an honor system of borrowing and challenges the community to think and act in terms of what they can share (i.e. bikes).

The program is simple; when you see a pink bike, read the guidelines and hop on! Take a ride to the Capitol, shop at the Farmer's Market, fill the "saddle buckets" with your treasures and drop them at home. To reserve a bicycle while you are inside shopping, the signal is to twist the seat sideways. Return the bicycle within 24 hours to a bike parking rack in the downtown core area. The names of the local businesses that have contributed to the Bike Library are displayed on the buckets. Users are encouraged to stop by and let them know that the pink bikes that they helped put on the street are being used.

The Olympia Bike Library is also based on donated bikes. Bikes can be dropped off or a volunteer come out and collect them. The bikes are then fixed up in the workshop. When they pass an inspection checklist, they are painted pink and installed with rear racks, saddle buckets and quick-release fittings for seat height adjustment. Finally, they are released into the community. Free bikes are busy bikes! They are in a constant motion. This high level of use equates to a high need for maintenance. This proves to be a constantly challenge for the volunteer mechanics.

* Note the bicycle are taken in for the winter.


A group which works on livability issues which affect Portland, OR, was looking for things that would improve the city. A community bike program would do just that. In September 1995 they arranged with a local cycling center which trains kids to become bike mechanics to get 10 broken clunkers. The bikes were reduces to single gear bikes and fixed-up to insure that the brakes work and that the tires were sound.

The next step was to make the bikes distinguishable. Yellow paint was chosen. A sign explaining to the program (the purpose, bikes are used at your own risk, return to a main street after use and for repair to contact …) was added. Lacking money it was necessary to ask people to donate their time and services. Two local auto paint shops and a sign making store agreed to help.

With 10 bikes (repaired, painted, with signs identifying them as free community bikes) they called a press conference for the opening of the project. Fortunately, the press arrived. They received wonderful TV coverage and the newspaper ran a great story. Both the TV stations and newspaper provided a telephone number for folks who would be interested in donating bikes.

The telephone began to ring. People wanted to donate bikes. It appears that there are thousands of old bikes in peoples garages and people love the spirit of free community bikes. The program outgrew the backyard. Volunteers also came forward to help. It also became clear that there was a natural alliance between Yellow Bikes and the Community Cycling Center (CCC) which had contributed the original bikes. Some of the bikes that were donated were actually too good for the program. CCC agreed to swap these bikes 2 for 1 for older bikes more suitable for community use. Soon fifty more bikes were on the streets.

Getting notices was hardly a problem. City officials began to see the potential of the program. The City endorsed the program and asked to help. Their immediate help came in the form of a warehouse space. The city contacted Multnomah County who agreed to make available an empty, warm, and dry space.

Yellow Bikes now has another 150 bikes on the streets. Their estimate is that it will take 1000 yellow bikes in Portland for the program to reach critical mass. They now must figure out how best to sustain and maintain a large fleet of bikes.

Note: All of this has been done without financing but they feel they are now at the stage where they must look realistically at raising capital to ensure the success of the program. On the question of liability and possibility of being sued, Yellow Bikes feels the best solution to is to make sure that the sponsoring entity has just enough assets to fund its current operations.


Following Copenhagen's lead, the idea of community bikes is spreading to Norway. The Town of Sandnes has decided to start with 200 bicycles which will be placed in 10-15 centrally placed bicycle racks. The concept is almost a precise copy of the Copenhagen model, with a 20 Kroner deposit system, bicycle which have unique parts and a very sturdy frame. The only major difference is the color of the bicycles. The Sandnes bicycles will be green. The Norwegian towns of Lillehammer and Hamar also have successful "free bicycles" programs.


A non-profit organization dedicated to transforming recycled bicycles into a fun, economical, environmentally friendly transportation alternative for Twin City residents and businesses. They use a wiaver that ALL riders have to sign.  It was originally developed and tested for a health club by a local law firm and then modified for them.   If you want a copy, let them know.  In 1996, the coalition placed another 150 free, community-use bicycles in St. Paul--a small number considering the possibilities, but large considering ALL labor and materials were donated. Late in 1996, thinking the Yellow Bike project was a good sustainable development project, the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance provided short term funding to allow for part time coordination, research and evaluation.

The research resulted in the 1997 introduction of the Yellow Bike Hub concept. Based on a successful European model, but still unique and a first in the US, the hub concept replaced the free, community bikes concept. Although both concepts are based on free usage, the free, community bikes concept means the bikes are placed, unlocked, on the street for anyone to use at any time. In addition to heavy losses due to theft and vandalism, this model is extremely hard to manage. In contrast, the Yellow Bike Hub concept is far easier to manage with far fewer losses. It works similar to checking out a library book. Quality recycled bikes with locks are checked out from participating businesses. Yellow Bike users make a one-time, refundable $10 deposit, sign a waiver, receive a Yellow Bike Card and pedal away. What’s more, by working two hours for the coalition, scholarships are available for those unable to afford the $10 deposit. Users keep the card and use it to check out a Yellow Bike from any Yellow Bike Hub. The coalition outfits many hub bikes with baskets or carriers and takes care of records and bike maintenance for the hub.

In addition to Yellow Bike Hubs, the coalition has a variety of ongoing projects. For example: Helping businesses start a Corporate Fleet to encourage it’s employees to ride bikes for short business trips and lunch breaks. Marsha Soucheray, a long-time bike rider, a bike advocate and a TYBC board member since its inception, proudly stated, "Not only does a Corporate Fleet benefit the corporation by providing a good image regarding the environment, but it is also a great company benefit to its employees." This program works well not only for the small business that wants only two bikes for employees to enjoy riding during breaks, but it also works well for a major corporation that wants a large fleet of bikes, with paperboy baskets to hold briefcases, because employees need to travel between facilities on a vast campus, and it makes more sense to make the trip by bicycle than by car; Bike Loans for group events or individuals who need a bike longer than a day; and Work to Wheels where kids who fix bikes are rewarded with a bike.

Yellow Bike Action Centre in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

By Barb Danielewski, yellowbikeaction (remove the space)

Yellow Bike Action is a local non-profit which reduces economic barriers to cycling by providing affordable rentals (Yellow Bikes), free bikes for kids, access to tools and parts (for a small fee) and a non-hierarchical environment where people can teach each other about bike repair and other activities which increase self-reliance (like silk-screening and VCR repair).


In our first year, YBA placed sixty bicycles on the street with a common lock. Kingstonians could purchase a key for $5 which would open any key to any yellow bike. At the end of the summer, we noticed that only three bicycles came back to us in good condition. Many yellow bikes ended up in the lake, under bushes, or in such a horrible state of disrepair that they needed to be thrown away. We realized that this system would never be sustainable nor would it be safe for the ridership. We did some thinking and came up with a new plan for year two.

In the second year, we developed a system where Kingstonians could come to our shop and choose a bike that was appropriate for their transportation needs and body size. Our new rental price of $20 for a six month term seemed affordable, even for a client living on social assistance with a meagre $175/month budget. We provide free locks, and reminded people to bring the bikes back every one to three months for a free tune-up, ensuring that the bikes are in better condition, and safer for the user.

Year four saw over a hundred international exchange students (not all at once!), referred to the shop by the Queen's International Centre, coming by to rent yellow bikes for their brief stay in Kingston. We started putting "dots" on a map of the world to show the diverse countries this new clientele came from. Europe and Asia were well represented, as well as India, Iran, South Africa, and Brazil. This clientele has a world opened up for them when they can explore Kingston by bicycle, and most likely goes back home with enthusiastic words about their experience with their Yellow Bike.

We recently launched our first Yellow Bike Hub at a local non-profit, allowing clients to borrow a bike for a day to get to an interview, or drop off resumes. The non-profit pays the deposit on the two Yellow Bikes and we provide a bike rack (reconditioned, not new!!).


Our five to ten volunteer mechanics offer affordable tune-ups while acquiring valuable skills. A tune up costs ten to twenty five dollars. During the summer, we helped over two hundred hundred cyclists with small adjustments or major repairs. Many of these people would not have been able to afford the prices at "for-profit" bike shops. (where a tune up costs $25-150 dollars) We have a hard time saying no to underemployed people who can't afford crucial repairs on their only source of transportation. This summer alone we did fifty free repairs. In the winter we remain open, although the number of repairs we do drops to thirty between the months of December and March. This is the time when volunteers teach themselves new tricks, and get ready for the busy spring season.

Bikes for Sale (between $20 and $70) and bike repairs keep our bills paid. We have three full time volunteers and twelve part timers. In addition, five women come every second saturday for a Girl's Takeover Day which is a lot of fun and gives women a chance to be the experts. Girl's Takeover Day is a series of bike repair workshops, starting with brakes, patching tubes, derailleurs, and moving on to repacking headsets and cranks and fixing coaster brakes. On these days, we also silkscreen anti-car messages on old denim, and make jewellry from old bike parts.

Our unique Bikes for Kids program provides one free, reconditioned bicycle per summer to children in need (regardless of income levels of parents).

From 2000-2004 we gave over one hundred free bikes to kids under the age of thirteen. Due to high demand, we had a long list of children waiting for bicycles in 2004. We rely on donations, many parents choosing to exchange the bike their child outgrew for a more appropriately sized one. Repairs for kids are (thus far) unconditionally free and we estimate 150-200 free repairs for kids performed during the summer months (May-Sept.2004).

People in the park can come by to use the washroom, the phone or simply for a drink of water on a hot summer day, and the vibrant and productive atmosphere is an inspiration to young and old alike. The neighbours seem to agree that its a lot nicer with YBA around! We give away bread from a local health food store and feed our poor friends from a little kitchenette. For five years now we have been keeping a community building open for the needs of the community, here's to five more! Come visit us anytime to help out or have a cup of coffee, we love having guests, and we need all the help we can get....

History of Public-Use Bicycle Programs, see "Smart Bikes: Public Transportation for the 21st Century". (PDF)

Community Bike Programs Homepage



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