‘Adaptive Biketown’ program brings new riders to the fore

Handcycles, trikes, and tandems are now part of the Biketown mix.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland now operates the nation’s first partnership between a private bike shop, a bike share system and a city government to provide access to adaptive bicycles.

Adaptive Biketown is the latest evolution of our bike share system. But more importantly, adaptive bikes and the people who ride them are now a part of our city, our bikeways, and our community in a way they weren’t before.

The true measure of a bike friendly city isn’t just how many people bike, but how welcome people feel when they want to give it a try.

What I realized being at the launch today is that this isn’t about access for people with disabilities. Yes, simply having these adaptive bikes available is the key. But this is really about acceptance. When a city has an official program for something it sends a signal that transcends the nuts-and-bolts details. In this case, Portland has just said: “Everyone with a disability who hasn’t been able to ride a bike for whatever reason, come on out and give it a try. We welcome you!”

Today adaptive bikes came out of the shadows.

Barbara Dirks came out to support the program.

Think of all the people who will try these bikes and make new friends while doing so. All the new conversations that will happen.


This is one of the tandems available through the program.

This was Sawyer Viola’s very first bike ride.

Julie Noel is owner of Different Spokes, a bike shop that’s partnering with the city on this program. She said it, “makes the disabled community more visible.” “They’re not an afterthought anymore, they’re not behind the scenes.”

“They’re not an afterthought anymore, they’re not behind the scenes.”
— Julie Noel, Different Spokes

The new Adaptive Biketown program will be operated as a rental service and will offer a mix of tandems, hand-cycles, and three-wheeled bikes. The program is open to people with disabilities, seniors, and those who qualify for a TriMet honored citizen pass. Those who want to rent one must register in advance and the cost is $5 per hour or three hours for $12. About 10 bikes will be available at Kerr Bikes located conveniently on the Eastbank Esplanade path just south of OMSI.

The program is being run as a pilot through this fall so that PBOT and its partners can evolve the offering as feedback and experience warrants. PBOT is funding the program to the tune of $30,000 (including $14,000 for 10 new bicycles). Biketown’s title sponsor Nike has also kicked in $10,000 for ongoing program costs.

We’ve come a very long way since one year ago when PBOT found themselves in hot water with disability rights advocates just one month before the launch of Biketown.

At today’s launch event, Jeremy Robbins, who broke his neck in a bike crash in 1999 and now uses a wheelchair, said he was excited when Biketown launched. “But then I noticed there were no provisions at all for people with disabilities. I was pretty hurt.” Robbins commended the City of Portland for listening and for giving people with disabilities the opportunity to ride.

Barbara Dirks showed up today on her hand-powered trike. She’s ridden one for years and doesn’t plan on using Adaptive Biketown herself, so she just came to show her support. Dirks is thrilled that there will be more people on bikes like hers on the paths. “Now I can tell my friends who want to try this that they can get a bike too.”

Sawyer Viola had never ridden a bike before today. He told me his mom made him come out and give a try. After his first spin (a short jaunt on the Esplanade), he gave me a thumbs-up and said he will definitely do it again.

Adaptive Biketown is likely to be the catalyst of an inspiring and important positive feedback loop: More availability of adaptive bikes will allow more people to try them, which will drive more awareness and more demand, which will drive more availability, and so on on and so forth until having people with disabilities on bikes is just a normal, everyday thing.

Diedre Hall.

For Deidre Hall, today was a chance to rekindle a romance with cycling she put out decades ago. Hall, who uses a wheelchair to get around these days, said she had a trike as a little girl but hadn’t ridden anything since. Today she was all smiles on a new, three-wheeled Sun handcycle. “It’s so exciting to be on a bike and bike with other people. I missed biking so much!”

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NOTE: The opening line of this article originally stated, “Portland now operates the nation’s first city-subsidized adaptive bike rental program.” Other cities already have similar programs. I’ve added a new line that more accurately describes the program and regret any confusion.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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