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,” BikeCommuterAds.com 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.”
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.
“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.'”
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.