Portland inks $10 million “Biketown” deal with Nike as title sponsor of bike share system

Portland bike share launch-2.jpg
Left to right: PBOT Director Leah Treat, Community Cycling Center CEO Mychal Tetteh, Nike VP Jorge Casimiro, and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

At the Nike factory store in northeast Portland this morning, the City of Portland announced that Nike Inc., has signed on as the title sponsor of Portland Bike Share (here’s the official announcement). The system is now known as Biketown (pronounced “bike” not “bikey”).

The deal is worth $10 million and will last for five years. PBOT had previously said they needed $2 to $8 million to launch the system, so this is a huge deal for the city.

Dani Simons with bike share operator Motivate (L), PBOT Active Transportation Division Manager Margi Bradway and bike share system project manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth were all smiles at this morning’s announcement.

Huge is actually an understatement.

In addition to the money and stability of the deal, PBOT and Nike also announced this morning that the partnership will allow the city to expand the initial number of bike share bicycles available to the public. The system will launch with 1,000 bikes and instead of the 600 that passed Council. This will make Portland’s system the largest smart (as in, dockless, with software and technology on each bike versus the more common kiosk-based systems) bike share system in North America.


(Story continues below photos)

The wrap-around light under the basket is pretty cool.
Swoosh head badge, of course.
PBOT Director Leah Treat doing a ride for the news cameras.

At the press event this morning, commissioner Steve Novick said, “It makes perfect sense for Nike to partner with us. Nike has a long history of supporting sports and physical activity in Portland.” Novick added that while it stung for other cities to launch bike share before Portland, our system will be the best in the country. “They will make sure this is the most exciting bike share system in the country, in the world.”

Nike’s VP of Global Community Impact Jorge Casimiro says they are investing in this project in part to, “Encourage people to move more to encourage physical activity into their everyday lives,” and “The city’s bike share program is the perfect way of doing so.”

“[Nike] will make sure this is the most exciting bike share system in the country, in the world.”
— Steve Novick, city commissioner of transportation

The bikes themselves will be “Nike orange”. “The baskets up front even look like little shoe boxes,” Casimiro said.

PBOT Director Leah Treat nearly choked up (or at least it sounded that way from where I was) while telling the assembled media how much this deal means to her. She has reason to be happy. After years of being hammered by bike share advocates locally and nationally, Treat has delivered a massive deal. “This will be the largest smart bike share system in North America,” she proudly proclaimed, before hopping on one of the new bikes for the news media.

This bike share system will also be equitable — both in the people it serves and the people who service it. Community Cycling Center CEO Mychal Tetteh was at this morning’s launch event. It’s fitting for him to be involved, given that the CCC’s mission is to expand access to bicycles to more people. Not only that but the CCC deployed America’s first ever bike share program when they placed infamous “Yellow Bikes” on Portland’s streets in the 1990s. Today, CCC is on board with Biketown to make sure that at least half of the jobs it creates go to people from underserved communities. (Learn more about CCC’s role in Biketown here).

The deal ends years of planning (our first story about Portland bike share was in 2007) and it finally gives the bureau of transportation the long-awaited green light to put the wheels in motion to get the bikes on the street. When bike share passed Portland City Council back in September, officials promised a launch date of July 2016. PBOT has previously said that it would take about six months to go from sponsor to bikes on the street — but that timeline might be shorter now that they’ve adopted a more nimble system that doesn’t require stationary kiosks.

Here’s a fact sheet with more details about the partnership that PBOT handed out this morning:

With more money and more bikes, PBOT now has the opportunity to expand the geographic coverage of the bikes. However, spokesman John Brady says that’s not confirmed yet. “We do expect to be able to expand the coverage area,” he said. There will be a public process this spring to determine where the bikes will be placed.

Portland’s system will be different than most other large bike share systems in the U.S. Instead of large kiosks where bikes are checked in and out, BikeTown bikes will have all the software and rental technology on-board. These “smart bikes” are the work of Social Bicycles, a company that runs 15 other systems across North America and Australia. Portland’s system will be their largest and will be operated and managed by Motivate, the company that recently bought Alta Bicycle Share and that runs successful bike share systems in Washington D.C., New York City, and other places.

There are many upsides to having Nike as the title sponsor of our system. The company is no stranger to cycling. Not only did they go all-in with Lance Armstrong back in the day, but they used to offer a line of cycling shoes and gear. Nike also has a bike-share system in place at the sprawling world headquarters campus in Beaverton. They are also world leaders on consumer technology, marketing, and fitness promotion. And that brings up an important point: Will Nike choose to promote this system as a fitness tool or as a transit/mobility tool? PBOT would certainly take the latter approach; but it’s clear that Nike has a fitness-centric business model.

Perhaps the biggest coup of this deal is that Nike is taking over the graphic design and visual identity portion of the entire system. Check out some detail shots of the bike from Nike:

With Nike behind the visuals, the bikes and the stations are pretty much guaranteed to be on-point. If you believe that marketing and design plays a huge role in culture change and human behavior (hint: it does), than having one of the world’s best designers working on bikes in our city is a very good thing. And consider the halo effect of this deal: Nike is one of the top brands in the world. They are considered “cool” by millions of people — many of them who are part of demographics bike advocates drool over. Nikes partnership with PBOT adds significant legitimacy not just bike share, but to cycling in general.

In one fell swoosh, Nike has just made cycling cool in Portland and beyond.

For more on Portland’s bike share system, see their website. You can also delve into our archives for 68 stories covering every twist and turn over the past 9 years or so.

Official Nike announcement with studio shots of the Biketown bike.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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