Develop A Bike-Sharing Program

Those sightseers who have been to a destination such as a beach have most likely encountered a basic bicycle-rental program.

There are now sophisticated, automated bike-sharing programs in several metropolitan cities, such as Paris, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Montreal, Denver, and Miami, with upcoming programs planned for Boston and New York City.

Even colleges and universities seeking to help their student body become healthier and lighten their carbon footprint are adopting this classic mode of transportation.

How does a department even begin to start a bike-sharing program? And should it develop an automated system or start small with a basic rental system?

Basic Infrastructure

For starters, the people using a bike-share program need a safe place to ride. This may be any venue from a designated bike lane painted on the edge of a road to bike paths.

Bike-share programs also work well when paired with an existing public-transit system. Bikers ride the bus then rent a bike to reach their destination. Bike rentals located in high foot-traffic areas fare much better than those tucked away in remote areas.

“Bicycle-sharing systems work best when launched with a large number of docking stations,” says John Z. Wetmore, producer of Perils for Pedestrians, a monthly television series that promotes awareness of issues affecting the safety of people who walk and bicycle.

“If a system is too small, it will connect too few destinations and will not get much use.”

For locations that cannot accommodate a large number of docking stations at different destinations, a more traditional bicycle-rental facility is the better option.

Best Bikes

The best bike for this program will be low-maintenance and easily available so 90 percent of the population can hop on and ride. Additionally, the bike needs to be durable enough that it can handle being used 10 to 20 times more than a private-use bicycle.

“Typically, we recommend a cruiser-style bicycle. We find it meets the qualities needed, and is a fun, entertaining, classic ride that adds an element of style to the program,” says Jonathan Sobin, vice president of the Collegiate Bicycle Company.

“The bikes can also be branded with the colors and logos.”

Although the bike should be a fun ride, it should not be nice enough that someone would want to steal it.

“Our bikes are painted in the school colors of white and blue, and the New York Institute of Technology [NYIT] logos are branded all over them,” says Greg Banhazl, director of business development for NYIT, which recently has introduced cruising bikes to the campus community.

“If I wanted to impress my friends, I wouldn’t be stealing this bike.”

The cruiser-style bike is one most people are familiar with, even if they have to think back to their childhood banana-seat bike. It is designed only to get a person from point A to point B--not to race.

“We could have spent more money and bought bikes that had gears,” says Banhazl. “You don’t need a lot of gears if your region is flat. Just invest in a sturdy, durable, and maintainable bike so you don’t have to replace the bikes every year.”

Stop Right There

Even though a cruiser-style bike has a coaster brake--the type you pedal backwards to stop--it is somewhat awkward for some people to use. For safety purposes and increasing ease of use, one may add a back-up braking system of handlebar brakes for both the front and rear wheels.

Other features to consider adding are a mud guard and a chain guard because no one wants a stripe of mud up the backside or a chewed-up pant leg.

“Have at least two different braking systems, the coaster brake and a hand brake, so if one fails, you have a backup for safety,” says Sobin. “But, for a park system to keep a bike-share program low-cost, you can go with just a coaster brake.”


“Since we weren’t sure of the level of experience with the rider, we have the balloon tires and hand brakes,” says Banhazl. But NYIT discovered not all of the add-ons were worth the effort or costs.

“We added nightlights and found it was a big mistake because no one wanted to ride at night, and the lights either fell off or were stolen. We investigated adding a book rack, but decided it was too dangerous if the books shifted, and we didn’t want to take that chance. We also looked at putting a basket on the front, but decided we didn’t want the added expense.”

Geared For Fun

“Depending on the terrain, you’ll want a bike that is geared one-, three-, or seven-speed,” says Sobin. “A single-speed bike is the most low-maintenance and durable option for flat terrain. A three-speed bike is perfect for rolling hills and a seven-speed for very hilly areas like San Francisco.”


Partner with a local professional bike shop for seasonal maintenance.

“At the end of the fall and spring semesters, our bike mechanic comes out and does maintenance on the bikes,” says Banhazl. “We also pull the bikes in winter and store them in a shipping container.”

Checking In And Out

Develop a system for checking the bikes in and out; it can be simple or incredibly high-tech. The simple version is similar to the cruiser-bike rental at a hotel that requires one to provide identification and pay a flat rate for the first three hours, and another fee for each additional 15 minutes.

Bike racks also can be fully automated, which allows riders using a credit card or smart card to eject a bike from a locked docking station. When finished using the bike, they simply return it to a docking station within the network, which automatically locks and stores the bike.

Bikes outfitted with a GPS can track who is using the bike, where they went, and how many miles they traveled.

Customized systems are an option as well, such as charging a monthly membership, a per-use fee, or a combination of both.

Georgia Tech is introducing a system using an automated phone system to manage checking in and out. The user sends a text message, or uses the mobile app to reserve a bike. The system unlocks the bike automatically, keeps track of how long someone uses it, and he or she can view riding data on the viaCycle website.

Before starting a program, make sure your bike infrastructure and signage are up to par.

“Start exploring funding options, including grants under reducing fuel emissions, reducing congestion, and sustainable and green transportation,” says Banhazl.

“Network and develop a coalition of local businesses and organizations that would support the program, and communicate with them the benefits of the program: such as bringing more foot and bike traffic to the community, reducing the community’s carbon footprint, and increasing the community’s sustainability and image.”

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC which specializes in media and public relations for outdoor recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati, is available online and in bookstores. You can reach her at

Bryan BuchkoComment