Free bike rides? Yes, for a few

Steal this bike. Or rather, take one that doesn't belong to you, use it for a while, then bring it back with no fees or fear of reprisals.

Published January 13, 2008 by Boston Globe 
By Christina Pazzanese

Steal this bike. Or rather, take one that doesn't belong to you, use it for a while, then bring it back with no fees or fear of reprisals.

That's the simple concept behind a new bicycle-borrowing program launched by a pair of Cambridge men who want to encourage their friends, colleagues, and clients to avoid driving to work.

Mark Moreau, 28, an information-technology specialist at Cambridge Innovation Center, said he got the idea while talking to co-worker Dane Jorgensen about longstanding arrangements in Amsterdam and Copenhagen and a new one in Paris.

"We should do that here," he recalls thinking.

The duo did a survey of the center's tenants and found nearly 75 percent of about 800 workers in the building used public transportation to get to work every day. The idea of an informal bike-borrowing program got a warm reception among those they surveyed, said Jorgensen, 36, the center's facilities manager.

After a few months of planning, the program kicked off in July with a couple of bikes, and has grown beyond expectations, said Moreau.

"I didn't start this out with the idea of making a green statement," said Moreau, but more as a way to remind himself – and other adults who may have forgotten – that riding bikes is fun. "We're doing this as a service to our clients."

Cambridge Innovation Center is an "incubator," offering short-term office space leases in One Broadway to small, high-tech startups, many with ties to MIT, that need a place to work but lack the capital to sign a regular, multiyear commercial lease, said Jorgensen. Anyone who works there or is a client of the 170 companies in the building is eligible to sign out a bicycle free of charge.

Borrowers go to the front desk or to a center employee and sign a waiver form. They are then given a code that will unlock any of the bikes stashed in a nearby rack. Borrowers can select any of the 10 bikes in the fleet, and helmets, reflective vests, and leg straps are provided for free.

While most take the bikes only for a day or so, borrowers are permitted to take them for longer, said Moreau.

So far, none of the bikes have been damaged due to collisions, though the pair expects that'll happen sometime. And only one has been lost to theft – a borrower had a bike stolen from him. "It was not a big deal," Moreau said of losing the $800 bike. "I feel like people are trustworthy in general."

Moreau said he thought it would be great if other businesses in the area, or even the local municipalities, copied the idea and offered their own bike-borrowing programs. But if such offerings weren't financially self-sustaining, he added, the likelihood is still probably a long way off.