Take a complimentary ride on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail

If Tom Baxter stood out on a corner with a sign that read "Free Bike Rentals," he'd have a hard time getting people to believe him.

•••

Published April 5, 2007 by The Pittsburgh Tribune Review
By Rochelle Hentges 

If Tom Baxter stood out on a corner with a sign that read "Free Bike Rentals," he'd have a hard time getting people to believe him.

As executive director of Friends of the Riverfront, Baxter heads the Community Bike Program, which allows Pittsburgh-area residents to rent bikes — yep, for free.

People merely complete a one-page application to get a "Blue Bikes" membership card, letting them access the bright blue bikes from lockers stationed on the South Side and the North Shore.

"That's a good idea," said Ken Savage as he walked down the Three Rivers Heritage Trail on the South Side. "What's the membership fee?"

There is none.

"What's the deposit?" asked Savage, 46, of Mt. Oliver.

Zero.

Really.

"That's even better," he said.

You don't have to tell Nancy Kilbane that. Kilbane joined the program when it started, about two years ago.

"I was newly retired, so I had more free time," said Kilbane, 59, of Mt. Lebanon. "So biking is my new hobby."

And it's the cheapest hobby she's ever had, she said.

Kilbane said she uses the program about four times a week, always keeping a stash of clothes in her car in case she's in the area and feels like going for a ride. The program has 30 bikes, 12 of which are on the South Side, where Kilbane usually goes.

"They're old-fashioned bikes. None of the fancy stuff," she said. "I mean the bikes aren't perfect. Sometimes they make noise or the tires are a little flat."

But they are free. And there's a phone number on the lockers that members can call to leave comments. Friends of the Riverfront has partnered with Dasani, which gives them a yearly stipend to allow for refurbishing and upgrades on the bikes.

Member comments have led to adjustable seats, water bottle cages and smaller framed bikes for shorter people, Baxter said. "And bells. People love the bells."

The only real complaint Kilbane said she has is that some of the lockers on the North Shore are beat up from nonmembers trying to break into the lockers and steal the bikes.

Baxter said Friends of the Riverfront is addressing security issues. In the next two months, all of the fiberglass locker doors will be replaced either with galvanized steel or 3/4-inch high-density polyethylene plastic (think kitchen cutting boards).

"A few of them have gone missing, which is normal," Baxter said. But those hoping to steal a 15-speed Schwinn will be disappointed. The bikes are one-speeds meant for flat, trail riding, Baxter said.

"They max out at 14 mph. Essentially, you can jog faster," he said.

The program has attracted more than 1,000 members, Baxter said. And on a nice summer day, there might be a short wait for a bike.

But Kilbane said she's only had to wait once because she doesn't think a lot of people know about the program.

"It's a great thing," she said. "It's quick. It's free. I don't have to lug a bike around.

"But I don't want anyone to know about it," she laughed. "I should say it's horrible."

Rochelle Hentges can be reached at rhentges@tribweb.com or 412-380-5670.