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What should PBOT do with old Biketown bikes?

Posted by on August 4th, 2020 at 10:52 am

The old bikes still have plenty of life in them.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“We’ll start gathering information to find the best use for the old, pedal-only bikes in a way that reflects our environmental and community values.”
— Dylan Rivera, PBOT

When the City of Portland launches Biketown 2.0 next month, the 1,000 bikes that were part of the original launch in 2016 will be cast aside. The Portland Bureau of Transportation says the analog, pedal-only bikes are “out of date” and “very expensive and impractical to retrofit.”

That’s about $1.6 million worth of bicycles with plenty of miles in them that could be put to use at a time when bicycling is booming and shops are having a hard time keeping bikes in stock.

For those of you wondering why they can’t be integrated into the new system, PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly responded to questions about that prior to City Council’s vote on the new contract last week.

Here’s what she said:

“It would be more expensive to retrofit the current bikes than the bikes are worth. And in addition to that, there’s challenges with the docking stations so it would be extraordinarily expensive for us to offer e-bikes and non-e-bikes — and that’s not something the vendor offered anyway. We see in other cities that do have a hybrid e-bike/non-e-bike system that the e-bikes are vastly preferred by riders. And again, in our efforts to deliver a more equitable system and help people get where they need to go, and go further on these bikes, we made that decision to switch to an e-bike system.”

What PBOT and Commissioner Eudaly haven’t said yet is what they plan to do with the old bikes. It’d be a shame if these iconic Nike-orange bikes were scrapped for parts.

Given recent outcry over 1,000s of used bike share bikes being scrapped and wasted, Portland officials will be under a lot of pressure to do the right thing and put the bikes to good use.

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When they were shiny and new in July 2016.

Asked about the future of the old bikes, PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera said now that the Lyft contract and expansion plan has been passed by council, “We’ll start gathering information to find the best use for the old, pedal-only bikes in a way that reflects our environmental and community values.”

Let’s assume PBOT is open to feedback and they’ll read what’s typed here (by you and I). What should they do with the old bikes? (Or should I say, what should we do with the old bikes, since (unlike this new contract) the old bikes were purchased with public dollars?)

“Whether they partnered with community orgs or distributed on their own, this seems like an opportunity to take a step towards making biking more inclusive.”
— Richa Poudyal, The Street Trust

An obvious choice would be to donate the bikes to nonprofits that specialize in warehousing and re-distributing used bikes. Organizations like WashCoBikes and the Community Cycling Center are always looking for quality used bikes they can sell/give to people and organizations in need.

And did you see what The Street Trust did recently with a fleet of used bikes they could no longer use? They donated them to affordable housing nonprofit Rose Community Development Corp who has given them to low-income residents in southeast Portland.

Newly-named Co-director of The Street Trust Richa Poudyal told us she’s like to see PBOT do something to benefit Black, indigenous and people of color, “Who have limited transportation options during this time.” “Whether they partnered with community orgs or distributed on their own, this seems like an opportunity to take a step towards making biking more inclusive.”

Kiel Johnson owns and operates Go By Bike under the Portland Aerial Tram. It’s the largest bike valet parking station in North America. He says PBOT should seed a network of municipal bike rental systems. “Give the bikes to BikeLoudPDX and let them build connections with local nonprofit housing agencies to loan them out.”

Bike Share Museum founder Kurt Kaminer says the bikes would be relatively easy to re-use. “Given their design, the bikes can be donated and repurposed really easily, he said. “I’d reach out to bicycle co-ops, charities, and community organizations for low-income neighborhoods to make it happen.” Kaminer said despite their heavy weight (45 lbs) the bikes should work very well — even after unlocked from the Biketown system. “These commuter bikes should perform exceptionally well for someone who’s interested in a reliable and comfortable A-to-B shopping bike.”

When Uber weathered intense criticism after scrapping thousands of old bike share bikes, advocates managed to save a few hundred of them for a nonprofit that plans to create “transportation libraries” throughout western New York.

Then there’s the Bike Share Museum. Whatever happens to our old fleet, I think at least one of them should end up in Kaminer’s collection to be preserved for posterity.

What’s your idea?

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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JOE KURMASKIE
Guest

Washco bikes will be reaching out to PBOT to help give these bikes continued life and use in the metro area. Our adopt a bike program gives away hundreds of bikes annually to kids, families, patients, vets, immigration service providers and seniors in need. We’ve grown the program in recent years so having a portion of these bikes donated to our nonprofit would ensure they would stay in our communities with the majority going to underserved and BIPOC communities. My vote would be that we work together with CCC, Bike Loud, Bikes For Humanity, as we’ve been doing the last few years, to target folks in need. WashCo Bikes has been successful in getting fleets of older niketown bikes into the community through our community bicycle shop and our bike share programs

rick
Guest
rick

This is a very good idea!

Dan Sloan
Guest
Dan Sloan

Hey Joe, nice to see you here! When’s your book “Lightning in a Saddle” coming out? I preordered a copy 2 years ago and look forward to reading it.

Allan Rudwick
Subscriber

If no one figures this out, I hope they are sold at auction instead of being destroyed.

I wonder if there are any compatible bikeshare fleets that would want a discount on 1000 bikes to beef up their system

SERider
Guest
SERider

There are massive bikeshare graveyards in China right now, and at auction they are lucky to sell lots of 5-10 bikes for a few dollars. The tech. is just moving too fast and the old bikes are abandoned so quickly.
I agree it would be optimal to re-use them some how, but based on the current market I don’t think they can realistically be sold/auctioned off.

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

LOL like anyone’s gonna want an old “pedal-only” bike.

Kurt
Guest

We weren’t aware that your life experiences and privileges speak for everyone. Despite your proclamation, I had no problem giving away over 600 retired Spins last year.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

I remember a piece a couple years back about folks at some big facility on Swan Island using cruiser bikes to get around during the work day. Wonder if these could make their way to other big facilities. Airport jumps out at me as good possibility, especially since it is nice and flat, and orange bikes would match their high-viz color scheme already!

dan
Guest
dan

I love the idea of a fleet of free loaner bikes inside the airport! If we could count on people using them responsibly, it would be so fun!

Jack
Guest
Jack

We still use them, they still work great.

Jason
Guest
Jason
David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Ask the chop shop bike industrial complex for their suggestions – they’ll get them in the end anyway.

Steve Hash
Guest
Steve Hash

I’ve always thought that Sunriver, OR needed a bike share program, but I would prefer them to be donated to a local non-profit.

Joe Rowe
Guest
Joe Rowe

Use gas tax money to pay and train teens in several centers to keep most working and free in areas outside gentrification. Pay to dismantle and recycle and save parts from non functional ones.

Su Wonda
Guest
Su Wonda

I’d buy one in a heartbeat. It’s always good to have an extra cruiser around.

Jon
Guest
Jon

I’m thinking they would make great boat anchors. Just leave them at the local marinas.

Kurt
Guest

There’s no reason the PDX bikes couldn’t be donated as simple pedal bicycles. The Motivate-based replacement fleet already looks different enough to prevent confusion with the previous SoBi bikes. Even if the branding is somehow an issue, it is minimal enough to cover with a bumper sticker-sized transfer.

That said, once unlocked, the IoT controller literally slides out the back and the lock assembly out the front (using special tools that Biketown must have, of course). It’d take a fair number of volunteers to remove IoT devices off 1,000 bikes, but I’ve done about 250 SPIN bikes (with more difficult to reach hardware) in the course of four or five Saturdays – with only one volunteer helping along.

One last thing – I really don’t understand some of the ego-centrism in the bike community, i.e.: Rebecca and weight elitist Jon. They seem to be woefully ignorant that there are people out there who survive on junk-ready Huffy bike-shaped-objects that could do very well with one of these solid 3-speeds.

At any rate, three speeds – new or old – will never go out of style or practicality. I never had a single person say no to a free solid-tired Spin (also in the 40-41 pound range when retrofitted with pneumatic tires); there’s no reason the BiketownPDX bikes won’t be equally loved on the donation circuit.

Incidentally, I’ve also ridden a JUMP/SoBi 5.0 with no electric assist at all, and I was shocked at how easily it glides on the its factory-issued Schwalbe Marathon tires. I don’t know if the Kendas on the Biketown bikes are as silky smooth, but who’s to criticize the rolling resistance of tires on a free bike?

Here’s hoping PBOT works out a great donation with a local community organization or non-profit.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Find organization(s) and donate if possible. If not, auction them off. There will be buyers.

Paul
Guest
Paul

The biketown bikes are 8-speed, just FYI.

Kurt
Guest

Nexus 8? Excellent, even better.

Jon
Guest
Jon

They weigh 45 POUNDS. If you really want to turn someone off of cycling just have them try to pedal a 45 pound bike with an inefficient shaft drive and internal geared hub up a hill. There are not any downhill mountain bikes that weight that much and the people that ride those use chairlifts to go uphill. I suspect the cheapest Walmart bike would be a more satisfying ride. Without standard parts these things are one breakdown away from the dumpster. Would it be easy for a novice rider to fix a rear flat tire with a shaft drive?

Kurt
Guest

Cranking a 45 pound bike uphill in first with a Nexus 8-speed may not be so bad if the alternative is walking. Even then, who’s to judge what the new owner’s A-B-A trip looks like? I’d calculate the gear inches of this beast, but it’s not worth nagging someone else for the reduction data of that shaft drive to prove the point to you. Nor do I see any practical comparisons between commuting and recreational (!) downhill riding.

The cheapest Wal-Mart bike will crack a plastic pedal and probably deform its three-piece, stamped steel rear hub before any of these exceptionally engineered SoBi’s give out.

Standard parts? The tires, tubes, rims, spokes, hubs, roller brakes, levers, seatpost, saddle, front and rear Shimano Nexus hubs, shifter, and brake levers are all standard. The shaft drive is nearly maintenance free. Even the fork steerer appears to be a standard 1-1/8″ threadless assembly.

The rear wheel pops out of the rear facing ends like any other wheel. Because the shaft drive has beveled gears, it’s probably easier to replace a tube on the back of this than any other bike with rear facing ends, fenders, and a chain drive.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

So don’t buy one. A lot of people like them. I agree the 8-speed hubs are inefficient in the lower 4 years (pro tip: start in 5th gear unless it’s really steep) but they’re still enjoyable to ride for many people.

Jack
Guest
Jack

We could hack off the rear electronics bay and the front basket to bring down the weight to make them more pleasant to ride.

John Cairns
Guest
John Cairns

Jonathan, I work for Central City Concern’s Employment Access Center. Our program helps people who have experienced things such as homelessness, incarceration, addiction, and recovery find and maintain employment. We have partnered with Biketown in the past. They have offered our participants a steeply discounted low-income fare. I am certain that our program could put some of these old bikes to use. Having a bike would really help some of our participants get to their work sites.

Bike Guy
Guest
Bike Guy

these things are so stout. I say donate to the National Guard for military maneuvers. Armed bike brigades. Instead of arms, make them carry flowers and aid in the baskets, though.

PS, what happened to the downvote button? (Not that I was going to downvote anyone …)

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Removing the downvote button is a welcome subtraction. Considering people were getting multiple downvotes for simply saying they liked the bikepacking video yesterday…

9watts
Subscriber

I’ll upvote that comment!

Bike Guy
Guest
Bike Guy

I appreciate that point of view, but to me it feels a bit totalitarian. Like Spotify. You can only ‘like’ a song; you can’t dislike it …

Houston Bolles
Guest
Houston Bolles

These would be awesome Zoobomb bikes.

Patrick Barber
Guest
Patrick Barber

What’s a “pedal-only” bike? I would love to have one of these, I miss riding them. So swoopy!

Patrick Barber
Guest
Patrick Barber

OK, I get it now (followed some links), that Biketown is converting to e-bikes. But, another naive out of the loop question, why can’t the system support both types of bike? Detroit has “pedal only” and e-assist bikes running in the same system.

Ricky
Guest
Ricky

They could do both kinds but per the commish: “in other cities that do have a hybrid e-bike/non-e-bike system that the e-bikes are vastly preferred by riders.”

9watts
Subscriber

Before we wring our hands too exasperatedly, let’s pause to consider how quickly the new fleet of pedal-optional e-bikes will be scrapped. This situation is not unique to the orange bikes; the e-scooters have a (!)very(!) short design life, and pretty much anything with electronics, never mind smartphone-dispatched, is going to be obsolete in no time. We might want to have a sit down talk with ourselves about this larger situation.

Suburban
Guest
Suburban

Im not comfortable talking with ourselves about this larger situation. pound symbol, e waste with wheels

Ricky
Guest
Ricky

Any option in which they could be donated to another smaller city or town in our region that would be interested in having a bikeshare program but needs an extra boost to get it started or piloted would be excellent. Maybe a town on the coast like Seaside or way out in Burns.

Sam Churchill
Guest

How about donating bikes to neighborhood associations who are a mile away from Light Rail. Here on Hayden Island (Jantzen Beach) we have no bike share or car share service, while the nearest Max station, the Yellow line Expo terminus, is a mile away. There’s no grocery store or school on Hayden Island either, which just makes congestion on the I-5 worse.

I think congestion city-wide could be reduced if people could easily get to Light Rail. Maybe 100 bikes each for the neighborhoods who aren’t well served by the Blue, Red, Yellow, Green and Orange lines.

Matthew in PDX
Guest
Matthew in PDX

I would love to see these bicycles continue to be used. There are plenty of people in the bottom 20% whose lives could be transformed by having a bicycle to get to/from work etc. However, do these bicycles lend themselves to that role?

Many bicycle share programs use bikes with non standard parts (odd wheel sizes, odd bolt sizes) to prevent them being stolen for use in the regular bicycle market. Giving a bicycle to a person in need is a great idea, but it will be quickly abandoned if that person is unable to buy inner tubes to fix flat tires.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

This outcry reminds me of what happens when libraries weed their collections.

People who are emotionally attached to the idea of books (or bikes in this instance) wind up building pressure to spend very disproportionate resources getting rid of stuff that’s just junk. Among other things, they tend to value labor and energy at zero.

Keep in mind, they need to get rid of 1,000 of these things. The communications and admin overhead even to give these things away one or a few at a time would be nuts, so there needs to be away to dispose of a lot of them efficiently

That one of the most outspoken bike communities in the PDX area is full of great ideas for someone else who could use the bikes strikes me a tacit recognition of their real value.

If you think they’re valuable, pitch an idea to the city where they come out better than they would if they just dumped them. Then rent a big truck, pick the bikes up, and make your idea reality.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

They don’t need to get rid of them, they’re choosing to do so.

qqq
Guest
qqq

If you’re right, that makes 9watts’ comment above even more important. “We might want to have a sit down talk with ourselves about this larger situation”–that situation being making things that very quickly become obsolete, throwing them out, making new things that quickly become obsolete…

At the very least–again if you’re right–then the new bikes should be introduced as something that we may very likely throw out in a few years.

9watts
Subscriber

Thanks, q.

“the new bikes should be introduced as something that we may very likely throw out in a few years…”

Let me put the question slightly differently: how long, typically, do bikeshare fleets stay in use, both the analog and the lithium varieties? I don’t think it is likely they’ll be thrown out in a few years, I think it is think it is a near certainty, but, as always, I would love to be proven wrong,

9watts
Subscriber

starting to answer my own question:
“The lifespan of a Bikeshare bike is 3-5 years according to the “Institute for Transportation and Development Policy”.”
from here: http://mikerazar.com/chart-it/2019/09/23/cabi25mrideslater/

qqq
Guest
qqq

That’s interesting. I’m less bothered by a bike that’s simply worn out from extremely heavy use than one whose “lifespan is over” due to it being considered obsolete, even though it still functions well for the way it was designed to be used.

9watts
Subscriber

Product life is such an interesting subject. An old friend of mine runs the Product Life Institute in Geneva. There is really no end to the justifications we have come up with for deciding that it is time to junk something, rationalize why it’s time is up. Not investing in maintenance because, well, they’re going to be scrapped in eight months anyway, is just one example.Software incompatibility seems to be one of the favorite 21st Century excuses.

Zaphod
Guest

While 45 lbs is a bit brick-y, those bikes are fairly easy to roll in this mostly flat city. Surely plenty of people would be stoked to buy a super bomber commuter that can withstand year-round weather with very low maintenance. The heavy and fancy dutch bikes while a million times more elegant, are essentially the same thing and go for about a grand. Offered at $250-$300, I bet they’d sell like fast and help diffuse the expenditure for the new ones.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

45 pounds would be brick-y, indeed. When Biketown first went in I asked and looked around for their weight, and never got a solid answer. Eventually I weighed one on a digital scale. It came within an ounce of maxing it out at 65 pounds.

But yeah, a bombproof shaftie for a couple hundred might be worth a look.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

More Ideas.

1) Add the bikes to PSU’s VikeBikes student rental fleet (and similar programs at other universities). https://www.pdx.edu/bikehub/vikebikes

2) Create a municipal or not-for-profit bikeshare alternative to the new spendy electric bikeshare. +1 for Kiel’s idea above.

3) Set up a partnership between Union Station and/or PDX, and a bike shop and/or PSU Bike Hub (for management and/or labor) where travelers arriving by train or plane could check out a sturdy orange bike for up to a couple weeks during their stay. This idea perhaps inspired by my recollection of old BikePortland stickers saying “welcome to Portland, now get on a bike”.

Tony Rebensdorf
Guest
Tony Rebensdorf

What I wouldn’t give for one of these. Shaft drives are practically maintenance free. this is a true bike for the people. But they should go to those who NEED a bike. not me.

X
Guest
X

How are the new e-bikes going to be charged? Are they to be picked up in trucks/trailers and hauled around? Are they supposed to be parked at the stations or left at random spots like the current fleet?

The biggest issue I see with the current fleet is that lots of bike parking spots were put in, unavailable to most bike users, and then the parking fee was dropped. This encouraged nikebike parking at limited public racks. I don’t know if bike share employees were spotting bikes at public racks but I suspect that’s the case.