Promoters of Free-Bike Programs Are Waging War Against Thieves

Rohit Khare (
Thu, 14 Aug 1997 11:57:50 -0400

[This brings to mind another vaguely remembered gem about the absolutely
insane # of bikes found abandoned in the canals of stockholm... anyway, I
didn't know about too many freebike programs.

There's a classic joke about a freebike program at SLAC wherein the
adminstrators puzzled over why they'd distribute bikes around campus each
week, and at the end they'd always be back at the auditorium by Friday.
They checked with the colloquia organizers: is there a party or something?
They checked with the shuttle: is the auditorium underserved? They didn't
check with the topographers: the auditorium is the lowest point on campus :-]


Promoters of Free-Bike Programs Are Waging War Against Thieves

By Ross Kerber Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

Suffering heavy losses in a brutal war of attrition, the loosely tied band
of free-bike distributors around the country is beginning to fight back.

Ira L. Grishaver has chosen his new weapon: the welding torch.

Mr. Grishaver is a manager at the Community Cycling Center in Portland,
Ore., which had helped strategically place 800 bicycles around downtown
streets. Riders were invited to pick up one of the distinctively colored
Yellow Bikes and leave it, unlocked, at their destination for the next
foot-weary soul.

The idea was to promote environmentally friendly transport. Refurbished old
clunkers have likewise become garishly colored bike fleets in dozens of
other places, including Denver, Fresno, Calif., and Austin, Texas.

The trouble is thievery. Only one of Portland's 800 bikes has been seen in
the streets in recent months. Certain that at least some of the bikes were
stolen for parts, Mr. Grishaver decided to make his new issue of freebies
less appealing to poachers by welding their seats and handlebars to the
bike frame so they can't be detached.

The Green Party of Sagadahoc County, Maine, has a different approach:
reinforcements. The party had dispersed 30 old two-wheelers around
Brunswick last Earth Day. But local youths apparently disposed of about 25
of them, some of which were tossed off bridges. A second batch of donated
bikes didn't fare much better; one was left 30 miles away in Lewiston.

Bob Dale, a Green Party member, vows to continue putting bikes on the
streets, and says donations are starting to outpace disappearances. "We
think we're gaining on them," he says. "We just have to teach people a
little etiquette."

Mike Flanigan of Somerville, Mass., with a similar faith in manners, is
resorting to gentle pleading.

Mr. Flanigan, a welder at a local bike maker, wants to attach baskets to
his freebies that have a flap carrying a notice asking riders to leave the
bikes for the next traveler. He says he won't dispatch any bikes until he
has at least 30 -- reckoning he needs that many for the public to notice
them. So far he has 10.

He figures he's in a win-win situation. Even a burgled bike can reduce car
exhaust, he reasons. As long as the thieves keep pedaling, Mr. Flanigan
says, "the joke's on them."

Rohit Khare /// MCI Internet Architecture (BOS) ///
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