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Portland business lets you turn your bike into a rolling billboard

Posted by on July 9th, 2014 at 9:17 am

bike billboard
(Screen capture from

Here’s an idea: a local business is setting out to sell ads attached to each side of local bike commuters’ front wheels.

“It’s a first-of-its-kind-in-the-nation business, because it’s basically for the bike commuters, the year-round riders,” founder Gary Courter said in an interview Tuesday. “They’ve been riding green all this time for nothing — years! — and we’re trying to change that.”

An ad on one of Courter’s riders’ private mobile billboards will start at $150 a month with a 12-month contract. Each month, two-thirds of the revenue goes to the person on the bike, Courter said.

“If this doesn’t go in Portland, it won’t go anywhere.”
— Gary Courter, owner of Bike Commuter Ads

Participants, who must be at least 18, share their “general territory and route” with Courter and sign a contract promising that they commute to school or a full-time job by bicycle. Future advertisers will be able to select billboards that ride through whichever areas of the city they want to target. Riders have the right to refuse any ad, and pay nothing other than taxes on any money they receive.

Courter’s colored vinyl banners can be fixed in place to each side of the wheel by the $6.50 wire brackets he’s designed. Each vinyl sign costs him $25, he said, so he’s hoping for long-term contracts with advertisers to keep costs low.

Courter, 58, said he bike-commuted himself to his job at Foreign Engine Service in Southeast Portland until an Achilles tendon injury about 10 years ago. He said the business concept came to him two years ago while driving home from his mother’s home in central Oregon.

“I didn’t let that idea die,” he said. “I just kept pursuing and pursuing.”

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Among the things he’s realized since then: that the bike billboards may be valuable not only during their owners’ commutes but while parked all day along busy streets; and that businesses might use the service as a way to give a tax-exempt raise to their own bike-commuting employees.

Courter also sees possible safety benefits for riders.

A BikePortland reader sent this photo
of a flyer.

“I’ve rode year-round before, and you’ve got lighting in the front and the rear, but from the side you’re just a blind zone,” he said. The reflective text on the winter signs he’s tested would change that, he says.

It’s a side business for Courter, who started working at Foreign Engine Service when he was 21 and bought the shop 24 years later, in 2001.

“A lot of shops are having a hard time, struggling, in the automotive industry,” he said. “They say it’s been hardest for the honest shops.”

To sign up, participants bring their bikes by Courter’s shop near the Springwater Corridor path. He launched in early May and plans to install his fourth billboard on Wednesday. He hasn’t lined up any advertisers yet, so the first few riders are working on spec for now. Any rider who qualifies can submit an application on Courter’s website.

Courter is excited to be bringing his vision to market, though he laughs about reactions like one from the man he was trying to buy general business liability insurance from.

“He was looking at my website and the agent, he goes, ‘I don’t even know how to classify you,’” Courter said. “It’s been a crazy road. … I told my mom, ‘If this doesn’t go in Portland, it won’t go anywhere.’”

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  • Spiffy July 9, 2014 at 9:33 am

    I want to see the size of the sign they can attach to tall bikes…

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • peejay July 9, 2014 at 9:42 am

    It’s “Looking for Portland bike commuters WHO…”, not “Looking for Portland bike commuters THAT…”

    I cannot in good conscience support such a business.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • lahar legar July 9, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
    Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
    Buy this, don’t buy that, can’t you read the sign?

    Just a horrible idea.

    Recommended Thumb up 10

    • q`Tzal July 9, 2014 at 10:38 am

      I was looking for iambic pentameter but was disappointed.
      Read to battle rap beat?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • dan July 9, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I’m a natural for this! I’m super-visible because I’m always riding on the sidewalk, riding the wrong way in the bike lane, and splitting the lane. What great exposure for the advertisers!

    Recommended Thumb up 9

  • Granpa July 9, 2014 at 9:58 am

    I was going to comment with some pissy snark, but that is already covered

    Recommended Thumb up 12

  • q`Tzal July 9, 2014 at 10:36 am

    As distressing as the billboard-ification of every available surface in our lives is ya hadta know this was comin`.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • GlowBoy July 9, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Maybe for next year’s WNBR we can all sell ad space on our backsides.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Matti July 9, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Think of it this way: in 12 months you might be able to fully pay for a decent new bike. I can imagine this would be a great incentive for a lot of people who don’t have a lot of resources.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Mark Allyn July 9, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I have never considered advertising for my lighted bikes and raincoats and I never will.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • 9watts July 13, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      a non-ad ad?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • whyat July 9, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    I think this sounds great. Will be filling out an app.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • dan July 9, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    This is also a great way for the local homeless population to earn some cash.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Clem July 9, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      According to the contract linked to, one must be at least 18 years old and either a full time student or full time employee using your bike to commute daily.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Mindful Cyclist July 10, 2014 at 3:39 pm

        Which is really kinda silly. My bike is sitting tucked away in the corner of my office and will only be seen for a little more than an hour a day. Compare that to someone that who is out on the bike all the time.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

  • CaptainKarma July 9, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    You’d have to pay me a lot, and I don’t see how that pencils out. I could do it with political statements on my own, but not for money.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Jeff Bernards July 9, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    I was biking around Budapest a couple of days ago and saw this 3 wheeled bike with a giant billboard.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • PennyFarthing July 10, 2014 at 9:11 am

    More visual marketing pollution…yay. Please stop.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

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