The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

Update: Commissioners set to vote on $2 bike fee for Canby Ferry

Posted by on April 30th, 2012 at 10:35 am

Bike camping at Champoeg St. Park-30

It’s free for bikes now, but Board
vote tomorrow could change that.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Clackamas County Board of County Commissioners could approve a $2 fee for people with bicycles who hop on the Canby Ferry to cross the Willamette River south of Wilsonville. Facing a strapped operational budget and a costly engine upgrade, Commissioners had considered closing it altogether; but overwhelming support for the ferry as a tourist draw from both the public and the Canby Chamber of Commerce has now set them on a new course.

A recent survey made it clear that not only was the ferry popular, but surprisingly over 80% of the respondents said they’d be willing to pay more to use it. And these days, a County is not likely to pass up an opportunity to generate transportation revenue — especially one that is popular with the public.

Notes from a Clackamas County staff recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners in advance of their meeting tomorrow, lays out details of the new fee structure. Check the table of existing and proposed fees below (taken from the “Study Session Worksheet”):

As you can see, walkers would remain free, people on bikes would go from free to $2, motorcycle riders would see their fare go up by $1 (to $2 as well), and everyone else would pay twice as much to ride. Based on $4 per vehicle, the County estimates they’ll generate $241,600 in annual revenue from ferry trips (cutting its annual operating subsidy by half to $175,000 per year).

Over the past six months, Clackamas County has counted 2,500 people on bikes using the ferry.

The staff report said a larger fee for people in cars was considered, but that anything more than $4 would cause too many of them to simply not use the ferry. The cost of driving 10 miles around the ferry would be about $5.50 (based on federal reimbursement rate of 55 cents per mile).

County staff are recommending that the board approve the new fee structure effective July 1, 2012.

Interestingly, the staff report also says they’ve considered building a new bridge between Canby and Wilsonville. Estimates put its cost at $20-$25 million and it would be paid for in part by a $2 per vehicle toll. However, given its cost — and the fact that the ferry’s new propulsion system (being installed this summer thanks to a federal grant) will extend its life another 10 years — Clackamas County isn’t moving forward with the bridge option.

The Board of County Commissioners is expected to vote on the staff recommendations at a study session tomorrow (5/1) at 1:30 pm (Public Services Bldg., 2051 Kaen Rd. in Oregon City).

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  • Art Fuldodger April 30, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Interesting that the fees are proportional to space occupied…until you get to bicycles & motorcycles. If it was still proportional it would be something like 50 cents.

    Paying $2 is fine with me as an infrequent user of the ferry because it’s a unique, signature cycling experience that’s well worth it, but if I was a regular bike commuter on the ferry (i wonder if there are any?) I’d be fairly rankled about this inequity.

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    • 9watts April 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

      I’m with Art. $2 is nothing, in the grand scheme of things, but then I don’t want to hear any more talk about free loaders since we’ll be paying roughly 8x our proportional share.

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      • matthew vilhauer April 30, 2012 at 11:06 am

        i recently took the wheatland ferry & the operator had us park our bikes leaning against the handrail on the side of the ferry. this effectively had no impact whatsoever on the spaces for motorized vehicles. hmmmm.

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        • jeff April 30, 2012 at 11:10 am

          that’s not the point. the ferry still has operational costs associated with hauling you and your bike to other side.

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          • matthew vilhauer April 30, 2012 at 12:30 pm

            so pedestrians who also do not impact space of motor vehicles get a free ride? cars take up much more space yet pay nominally higher fares? i totally understand the operational costs you’ve mentioned and agree that a fare should be expected. i have no issue with paying a fair toll. evidently i need to spell it out for you. fares should be based on parity, plain & simple.

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            • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:10 am

              I disagree. If this were a 24/7 piece of infrastructure, I’d agree completely – but the ferry only runs part of the day, and only when there is traffic to carry. Maintenance costs are proportional to running it, and the ferry runs whenever there is someone wanting to cross – even if the crossing is for a single bicycle. Pedestrians ride free because what few pedestrians there are on the ferry are overwhelmingly local residents.

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    • Steve April 30, 2012 at 11:06 am

      As a commuter I commented on the inequity at length here: If it’s just about getting money from people who weren’t previously paying, how about charging per occupant in a car or on a motorcycle? Because if they charge too much cars will “go around” and incur too much wear and tear on the roads, pollute more and your trip will cost more. But if you ride a bike and cause none of these burdens, pay more. Huh?

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      • Steve April 30, 2012 at 12:28 pm

        To be even more clear: the ferry cost $574k per year to operate, takes in $119k in toll revenue and had 69k vehicles last fiscal year. Even at $4 a vehicle the ferry will operate at a substantial loss. The only reason charging bicycles is on the table is because the necessary toll on cars to operate in the black is more than the County believes motorists will pay.

        It’s interesting if a similar argument were being made to start charging a general bike tax – not enough revenue to fund from current sources, if we raise (gas tax?) people will just drive less, potential untapped source from bicycle riders – I wonder how many people would be ok with that?

        Final thought, since riding bicycles on or off the ferry is prohibited already, and pedestrians will still ride the ferry for free, if I carry my bike (or walk it like when in a crosswalk), am I not legally a pedestrian?

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        • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:16 am

          To the last – if you push your car onto the ferry, are you not a pedestrian? No – in either case, the ferry still carries the weight of the vehicle.

          69k vehicles – is that “vehicles”, or “motor vehicles”? The ferry also sees thousands of bicycles annually – probably over 1,000 just from the Harvest Century ride alone. Granted, $2,000-$10,000 isn’t a lot in the scheme of things. Yes, the ferry will operate at a loss. The question isn’t whether it operates at a loss (most roads and bridges do as well) – the question is whether the annual cost of running the ferry is greater than the annual cost of bridge maintenance plus the cost of a new bridge divided by the expected number of years it is in service. A $25 million dollar bridge expected to last 50 years would run $500k per year PLUS maintenance costs, for example.

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          • Steve May 2, 2012 at 11:43 am

            Motor vehicles. The figures are from the Oregonian. Until recently the County had never counted bicycles as they werent charged.

            A lot of the ferry cost is labor which they have to pay regardless of trips. I think there are 3 operators, so I’d guesstimate 1/3 of the cost is just wages and benefits maybe 1/2. My understanding is also that the actual trips back and forth are are small portion of the fixed operational costs of the ferry simply being in the water with power on and operational.

            However, cyclists are users of the ferry who cost something to bring back and forth, even if it is less than half the cost of a car. For me, people using bikes as transportation over cars or motorcycles is beneficial to the air quality and congestion of the county, among other things, such that the county at large should subsidize bikes 100% instead of some slightly smaller %.

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    • Jim May 4, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      You gave me an idea. For an occasinal user like you could spend a dollar or two per ride and the frequent user can perchase a weekly pass for 2 to 6 dollars (actually price to be determined).

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  • Ethan April 30, 2012 at 10:50 am

    I’m glad the ferry will continue to run. At the end of the day, recreational cyclists crossing there are undoubtably spending time and money in Clackamas County, so charging them disproportianally (compared to cars) may prove counter-productive. Charging what the market will bear is more like something a private ferry operator would do.

    Hopefully CC residents will be equally understanding when their cars are tolled on the new Sellwood Bridge they opted not to help pay for.

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    • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:18 am

      CC residents won’t care. Only a small percentage of residents (less than 1%) use the ferry each year. 20% or more of them will use the Sellwood Bridge during the next year, and most of them on a daily basis. CC rejected the Sellwood fee and will approve the ferry increase because the ferry *isn’t* in Multnomah County and more than 99% of the residents will be completely unaffected by the change.

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  • Joe April 30, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Good to know, need to carry 2 bucks if I cross that route. 🙂

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  • Chris I April 30, 2012 at 10:55 am

    If bikes are going to be $2, then motorcycles should be $3 and cars $5.

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  • o/o April 30, 2012 at 11:35 am

    it would be interesting how many bicycle riding people will use this summer with new fees

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    • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:21 am

      The fee isn’t likely to affect the volume of cyclists. Most support the fee, and those who don’t aren’t frequent users of the ferry. Most cyclists in the area upon reaching the ferry will likely rather pay the fee than ride 10 miles out of their way to the next closest crossing.

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  • Shane April 30, 2012 at 11:37 am

    I agree with the per person charge.
    In doing bike tours around the country it always got to me when a group of us would pay $1-5 per person to ride a ferry (or $X to camp in some places) while a car paid the same or a little bit more (say $6) no matter how many people it had in it. If there were five of us riding together we would pay $5-20 while the car paid $5 whether it had one or eight people in it…. seems out of whack.

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  • Lynne April 30, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I think $2 is too much. 0.50 is more like it.

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    • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:25 am

      Are you a daily user of the bridge? How do you define “too much” – is it worth $2 to avoid riding to either Oregon City or Wilsonville (on I-5’s shoulder) to cross the river? If you’d rather pay the $2 than ride to the next crossing, then it’s hard to honestly say it’s “too much”. When the ferry carries 4 cars across currently, it brings in $8 in revenue. When it carries a single cyclist, it brings in $0. The cost per trip across the river is nearly identical on both trips, so currently cars are subsidizing all other users. The ferry serves very few vehicles over 22′ – the turns and grade to and from the ferry are very sharp and steep – cars and bikes represent the vast majority of users.

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      • El Biciclero May 3, 2012 at 11:03 am

        “The cost per trip across the river is nearly identical on both trips, so currently cars are subsidizing all other users. ”

        …yet they are still underpaying based on the actual cost of the service. So who is subsidizing whom? Are drivers subsidizing everyone else, or is the local government subsidizing everyone, drivers and non-drivers?

        To make up the $455k shortfall suggested by Steve’s numbers above, the ferry would have to service 225k cyclists per year, or else charge drivers $8000 per trip.

        It seems that in this and many other situations, disregarding bicycles for so long with respect to paying fees and such (think bike registration fees, bridge tolls, etc.) has led to fee schedules whose “formulas”, if applied uniformly, would result in bicyclists still paying next to nothing. If we want to start charging cyclists for any of the same things we charge motorists for, then any fee for cyclists will be massively out of proportion to what drivers pay, since again, if the “formula” for deciding appropriate fees were applied uniformly–this time starting with what we might expect cyclists to pay–the cost to motorists would be astronomical.

        This is just one example that highlights how expensive it is to support gratuitous motor vehicle use–if we really charged based on the true costs of motoring, nobody could afford it.

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  • Tim April 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    I take this ferry 4-8 trips per summer on my bike, and it’s a great way to “bridge” rides on the Canby side with West Linn, Pete’s Mountain, etc. Without the ferry I would not ride to the west side (Oregon City bridge being down doesn’t help here/now). There have been times when I was the only one on the ferry (w/ bike), and they took me to the other side. I’ll glady pay the $2 for this convenience.

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  • RonC April 30, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Hopefully tandem bikes will only count as one bike. It seems only fair if cars with more that one person are charged the same rate.

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  • EngineerScotty April 30, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    What if you walk your bike? Aren’t you then, legally, a pedestrian?


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    • middle of the road guy April 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      what if your passengers get out of the car and walk on the ferry? Aren’t they now legally pedestrians?

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      • Spiffy April 30, 2012 at 3:47 pm

        as long as they can carry their vehicles then I would agree…

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      • Paul Souders April 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm

        Yes they are. But either way a car full of people costs $4+

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        • middle of the road guy May 3, 2012 at 9:15 am

          This was in response to the people who suggested that passengers should also pay.

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    • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:27 am

      You are legally a pedestrian, but the bike is still being transported. The charge isn’t per mode, it’s per cargo. Carry humans – no charge. Carry mechanisms (car, bike, truck), there’s a charge for that. It’s useful to think in terms of ships rather than transit.

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  • Joseph E April 30, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    If a bridge is really only $20 million, it would make sense to build one, in the long term. Right now it costs $400,000 a year to operate. That money alone would pay for a bridge in 50 years, and most bridges last longer. But there is also the cost of buying and maintaining the ferry, and the disadvantage of the ferry not running during high water. I expect a bridge with a $2 toll for cars would attract enough traffic to pay off the investment in 30 years, pretty good compared to most road projects. If tolls are added on I-5 at Wilsonville and 205 at Oregon city (as they should be, to pay for those bridged), this bridge could have a $5 toll for cars as well, same as the ferry, and pay for itself within a generation.

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    • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:36 am

      You can figure a 20% inflation during the life of the project. Project costs usually don’t include the money used to pay the interest on the bonds needed to float the construction costs. Let’s say this bridge lasts 100 years – that’s $250k per year just for the bridge. Add bond financing, add annual maintenance. Add 2-3 retrofits during the life of the bridge to meet new standards, and to replace footings/joints, repave, etc. Each of these retrofits/repairs will likely cost 50%-200% of the original cost of the bridge. We’ll estimate conservative – 2 retrofits at 50% of the cost. Now you’re at $750k per year PLUS financing costs. Currently, the ferry costs $574k per year, with $119k in revenue. That will double to $238k annually if the fee increase goes through. You can toll the bridge, but to do so will require a minimum of 3 employees (8 hour shifts). At $40k per employee per year (assuming a $20k cost per year salary/wage) the bridge needs another $120k per year to pay the cost of collecting tolls. The ferry already has a toll collector on-board.

      So… $870k per year for a new bridge vs. $574k per year for the ferry. Which is more responsible for the county? Which is cheaper for the bridge users? (this is simplified – obviously, the cost of ferry replacement would need to be figured in, and that likely brings the costs about even)

      County budgets are tight. I guarantee you the county’s accountants and DoT have gone over the numbers for both options, and the county commissioners aren’t stupid.

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  • drew April 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    How about folding bikes?
    Fold it up, bag it up, walk on board?
    I want to support the ferry though, and would have no issue with the $2 charge.
    I suppose we are used to motorists always getting subsidized; my 28lb bike ($2) vs drivers 2 ton vehicle ($4). Are passengers in the car charged as well? Should I fold up my bike and get into one of the cars for a free ride? I don’t think ferry use would suffer if the car charge was increased to at least $5.

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  • Suburban April 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    When discussing how “reasonable” or “appropriate” any fees are for this crossing, remember that this is in the context of Clackamas County, and involves County Staff. Things are very different than what some readers may be familiar or comfortable with.

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  • dwainedibbly April 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    $2 sounds ok until you go on it with a family of 4. Then, you might as well drive. What about tandems?

    Bikes should be $1.

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  • Todd Boulanger April 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    I do not mind paying a fee for a valued service…camp site, ferrys, etc. But when it costs more for a group of bicyclists traveling together than the number of passengers of a large car or mini van then I would call it a foul (lack of transportation equity).

    I would ask that all local cyclists write to them and ask for a “group fee” for cyclists traveling together. It could be capped at a number that would fill the 22′ stall or = to the car fee. if not then we should ask that they add some parking racks (staples) and other improvements at the dock (covered area to park and wait for the ferry, potable water, etc.).

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  • Tony April 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Maybe they should have considered a suggested donation. I would REALLY hate to get to the bottom of Mountain Rd. and realize I had forgotten, lost, or not realized I needed the two dollars.

    It’s not that big of a deal for someone to drive 10 miles out of the way, but for peds and bikes it’s a much bigger deal to get stuck down there.

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    • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:40 am

      Peds ride for free, even under the new proposal – and the “I forgot” could be served by asking some volunteers to set up a fund for cyclists who forgot their money. Maybe a local bike shop could do it. If not, it’s not *that* far to Canby on the south side, or Wilsonville on the north side. If you’re riding that far from Portland without $2 in cash or an ATM card on you, then I’d say the ferry is not your main point of risk.

      Come to think of it, every cyclist should probably wrap 5 $1 bills up with their patch kit for that kind of “emergency”.

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  • John Lascurettes April 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I’m gonna roll up to the ferry some day when there’s autos waiting, pay $24 like a baller and tell all the autos they have to wait. I’m paying for all the spaces.

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    • A.K. April 30, 2012 at 4:07 pm

      Hahaha. That made me chortle. That would be really funny.

      “Good sir, I’d like the whole ferry deck to myself today, please. Here’s $30, keep the change.”

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    • jered May 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      Easily the best comment in this entire thread! COTD for sure!

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    • Ben Guernsey May 1, 2012 at 2:56 pm

      That actually is a good point. So if me and two friends roll up, we take half a car space, but pay 50% more than a car will? Wonder how hard I will have to argue to the operator that we have the same rights to a lane (and parking spots) as an automobile. Hah.

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  • Jeremy Cohen April 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    I admit, like many posters already, that the actual fee doesn’t bother me as much as the message it sends. Why are the ferry authorities so worried cars would rather drive around the ferry (thus subsidizing the car fee based on the relative load of each car–and showing that car drivers make decisions based on a logical cost/benefit analysis) but cyclists have either full/fat wallets (based on any number of metrics that over-charges the bike at $2–weight, size of footprint, etc) or are only recreational users–thus justifying a small user fee for such a fun activity. When are cyclists going to be considered legitimate users of transportation worthy of LOGICAL assessments of our impact and expense.

    A large vehicle that takes ALL of the space on the ferry would cost $24. A moderate group of cyclists would cost MORE and leave room for others to make it across the ferry. Totally unfair. I get it, two bucks is not much but neither then is 10 for a car.

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    • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:46 am

      If that was the common usage scenario for the ferry, that would be a very valid argument. The most common ferry users are single cyclists or a pair of cyclists. Yes, group rides hit the ferry, and Harvest Century packs the ferry with cyclists completely once a year for multiple trips, but the majority of cases are one cyclist. Frequently, that cyclist is the only occupant, and the cost of the trip is almost the same as it is if the ferry is full of cars. Cyclists are paying more than their “fair share” if this were a bridge, where the cost/trip for bikes is far, FAR lower than for cars. But this isn’t a bridge, it’s a boat, and currently auto users are subsidizing bikes – and they will continue to do so in most cases even with the new fee.

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      • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:48 am

        To be completely equitable, they could charge a fixed fee for “bikes” per trip, where 8 cyclists would cost the same as 1 or 2. Good luck trying to sell that one to the county, though.

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  • Nate April 30, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    I think the group rate/discount is reasonable, with a minimum fee say like 2 bucks. e.g., 1 to 4 bikes = 2 bucks, 5-8 bikes = 4 bucks and so on. 2 bucks each seems steep considering we have to ride on the side to make room for cars, like errr, “the back of the bus”?

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  • Ben Guernsey May 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    I’m just glad it will still operate, because south of Sellwood there are very few decent options to try to cross the Willamette.

    I don’t see why they wouldn’t charge a pedestrian $1 or something too. Granted since there is little on either side it’s not like that is a big number.

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    • matt picio May 2, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Ben – other than the locals, there are almost NO pedestrians on the ferry. The locals are bearing the burden for all that traffic on their roads which wouldn’t exist at all if not for the ferry. They’re already bearing hidden costs, just like the folks living next to I-5 who breathe all the benzene. The vast majority of bike and car users who ride the ferry do not live within 5 miles of it.

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  • Joe May 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    John Lascurettes
    I’m gonna roll up to the ferry some day when there’s autos waiting, pay $24 like a baller and tell all the autos they have to wait. I’m paying for all the spaces.
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    AWESOME! haha

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  • Joe May 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Bikes should be 1 dollar.

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