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B-Cycle: Plug-and-Play Bike Sharing for North America

Nominated by Julia Levitt

A B-station in Denver, Colo.
Bike-sharing became a globally popular hit when systems rolled out in Paris and Barcelona. Paris' Velib system has become the most iconic worldwide, but other cities have added their own: SmartBike in Washington, D.C., BIXI in Montreal, Samba in Rio de Janiero and b'easy in Santiago among them. Now a new system looks like it's poised to help bicycle advocates around North America bring this beneficial product service system to their own hometowns.

B-Cycle started up as a pilot program called Freewheelin, which launched in Denver, Colo. during the 8 days of the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. The bike sharing system was so well received that its creators went on to launch B-Cycle, which pairs efficiently designed bikes with sleek storage units that make cycles available at all times of day with the swipe of a member card or credit card. The system also incorporates an online component that lets cyclists track their usage, get route information, find available bikes and more. The initiative is a collaborative effort from Humana (a health insurance provider), Trek Bcycle Corporation and Crispin Porter + Bogusky (an advertising agency).

My favorite part of the program is that it empowers those of us whose cities haven't yet jumped on the bike-sharing bandwagon with a starting point and some basic stats on just what it might mean to bring bike-sharing to our communities. Just enter your zip code into this cool calculator to get an estimate of how many B-stations would be needed to serve your city's population, and how much collective carbon, money, and traffic hassle you'd save if 10 percent of that population used the cycles to travel 30 miles. And the website's very slick video makes it easy to explain the concept to newcomers:

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Not only is this a fantastic system for its obvious environmental benefits, but it's another great example of the "product as service" model that carries its own positive impacts. I'm not ready to rule out ownership completely, but for so many facets of our lives, a shift in this direction makes a lot more sense.

Posted by: Mouli Cohen on 10 Jul 09

It seems to me that bicycles are one of the few products that don't really need to adopt the product as a service model. They are inexpensive to own and can (and should!) be used every day without social, environmental, or economic detriment. Bike sharing systems are excellent for tourists, but for the average person, owning a bike and occasionally using a shared car when necessary makes a lot more sense than the converse.

Posted by: Andrew on 10 Jul 09

Slick web site, slick marketing. What the marketing spiel does not address are the required infrastructure improvements that must accompany bike-sharing programs. Paris, Lyon, Barcelona and other cities all invested in making their streets safer for bicyclists as part of creating a bike-sharing program. B-Cycle simply addresses the simplest part: the bikes and the electronic technology for releasing and tracking them. This might be fine on a boardwalk or inside a park but most American cities are dominated by automobiles and B-cycle provides nothing to address the fact that many people who currently own bikes or who are capable of riding bikes won't ride them because of perceptions that doing so is unsafe.

Posted by: Gordon Black on 11 Jul 09

The one problem with Bcycle as opposed to Velib, where's the basket? How do I go to the local market if there's not basket to put my shopping in? Do I really want to ride home with heavy milk bottles in my back-pack?

I disagree wholeheartedly! When I get on a train, I don't want to have to carry the bike with me. I don't want to own a bike or service it, I want it all done for me. I'm lazy and busy and oh-so stressed, like most modern people.

Carbon fibre folding bikes that I can fold and take with me (awkwardly) on the bus or train cost $1500 in Australia... that's $150 years of the Velib program which looks after all that for me! No thanks. Just make the stations everywhere, look after the bikes for me, make it a cheap annual subscription, and I'll just use it for the half hour I need it to get around in between my trolley bus and train trips. It enhances the public's use of public transport systems as well. It's about SYSTEMS thinking not just telling people what they should do, what hobbies they should have (tuning up my own bike, yuk, I'm not practical) etc.

Posted by: Eclipse Now on 13 Jul 09

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