Splendid Cycles Big Sale

Fate of old Biketown bikes now in state hands

Posted by on October 19th, 2020 at 1:56 pm

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

These are dark times for the old Biketown bikes. Once celebrated, they’ve been relegated to a cold corner of a city-owned storage area. While the new electric-assist bikes gather attention and adoring fans, the 1,000 or so old bikes just gather dust.

While they weren’t integrated into the new system, the old bikes have lots of mileage left in them and it would be a shame (and a PR debacle) if they ended up in a scrap heap. If the City of Portland has their way, the bikes will see action again someday.

Back in August we wondered what their future would be. Now we’ve heard a bit of an update.

Steve Hoyt-McBeth, the PBOT staffer in charge of the bike share program, was asked about the old bikes at a meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Committee last week. He said the city is working with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) in getting bikes to other cities in Oregon that want bike share in their communities.

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Why work with ODOT? If you recall, the original orange bikes were purchased with a $2 million federal grant approved in 2011. ODOT is the administrator of federal transportation funds and as such, they must follow specific rules around property purchased with it.

Asked recently to clarify or confirm Hoyt-McBeth’s remarks at the committee meeting, PBOT’s spokesperson Dylan Rivera said, “We’re looking at a variety of options, including public entities that may want to use the bikes. This includes the potential for making them available to other communities in Oregon. ODOT has been great to work with, but we think it will be a while before we have any news on this.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Duncan S NewberryGlowBoyJames S9wattscitylover Recent comment authors
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todd/boulanger
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todd/boulanger

This is part of the process to be expected with Federal grants funds used to purchase assets with a market value >$0 and less than 20 (?) years since the award. Versus how 100% privately financed bikeshare (Zapster, Lime, Jump) or e-scooter (Lime, Bird, Skip) systems that can just evaporate with only a “30” day notice.

One option not discussed in the article is that such Federally funded assets through City & State DOTs can also be given to 501(c)(3) entities…outside of the Biketown service area. [And how about considering federally recognized tribes / first nations as another option too, I would guess that they are eligible too?]

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

You are right, but I think it a bit more likely the bikes will be handled like surplus city buses, which are also purchased with Federal funds through state DOT purchase pools. Typically after a bus is deemed surplus by the public bus operator, it’s auctioned off, typically to dealers who specialize in reconditioning and selling used buses, a bigger market than most people are aware of. Buyers of used buses include small commercial operators, clubs, nonprofits, Scouts, private schools, smaller rural communities, and private individuals. I could see some of these same companies buying the bikes on speculation.

todd/boulanger
Guest
todd/boulanger

Yes, that is a possibility…depending on how the “lifecycle” of this asset is judged. Most transit vehicles (and others) are typically 10+ years old and well past their industry “lifespan”. The shared micro mobility industry is so new (along with its tech) that there is [yet] little public guidance for value yet. The oldest US systems are now 10 years old, but most are 3 years on average. (Just means you have to do more homework in the valuation process and make it defensible, etc.)

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

The lifespan for most buses are based on when an engine needs to be completely rebuilt, assuming regular maintenance. I dare say they could calculate something similar for rental bikes.

Duncan S Newberry
Guest
Duncan S Newberry

I dont know about the current state of buses but I remember reading that the frame is designed to last a million miles which typically means 5 engine overhauls and 3 transmission replacements.

James S
Guest
James S

Federal rules require buses be on the road for 12 years before they can be retired like that

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Having worked at govt gigs before, this reminds me of rules that require an intergalactic search and cumbersome process that makes it more expensive to dispose of stuff than it’s worth.

People love the optics of trying to repurpose junk rather than disposing of it, but the reality is that administrative and physical logistics combined future maintenance issues for super heavy bikes that aren’t good for much will consume resources that probably could have been used more effectively elsewhere.

9watts
Subscriber

Did we ever learn why the new ebikes weren’t added to the existing fleet (in other words why users couldn’t have had the choice of both)? Most of the arguments in favor of ebikes I’ve heard here have implied that they would be for special circumstances (old people, stedp hills, avoiding sweat when arriving at work, etc.) but surely many (most?) trips made by bikeshare bikes in Portland don’t fall into any of those categories. So why remove the unmotorized option altogether?

Jason
Guest
Jason

Going to guess that it’s a combination of factors; having a homogeneous fleet is cheaper to care for, the old bikes may need to be retrofitted to work with the new rental system, the possibility that one type of bike would tend to be scarce or overly common in certain areas – leading to a nagging management issue.

I think keeping the old ones would have been good for the end user though.

Mick O
Subscriber
Mick O

From the Bike Portland article “What should PBOT do with old Biketown bikes?”

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.”

To add to that, having the new operator use the old bikes in the new system would involve the new operator buying them, which as we can see is a bureaucratic nightmare in and of itself.

9watts
Subscriber

Thank you, Mick O, for that copy.

It is so dispiriting to read this kind of reasoning, as if the question of whether to switch entirely to ebikes did not deserve a more reflection, thoughtful reconsideration. Do the people making these decisions really not recognize that there are larger issues at stake? That switching from a fleet of pedal-things to a fleet of motorized-things is best decided on technical issues or vendor concerns?

Habituation is one of the reasons we have automobility. Dishabituating folks-who-rent-bikeshare-bikes from the pedal version is not wise or prudent, no matter how much decision makers are able to convince themselves how ‘vastly preferred’ the e-version is.

citylover
Guest
citylover

The old bikes kind of suck! Pardon my French. Heavy, clunky, I commuted one way to work for a few years on one.

9watts
Subscriber

Not disagreeing, or claiming any special qualities for the first fleet of orange bikes, or this second one. My point isn’t about any particular bikes but about what is gained and lost when the whole fleet of bean-powered bikes is chucked for the lithium-powered fleet.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Interesting they didn’t do that, because that’s precisely what has happened here in Minnneapolis: the new Lyft-supplied e-bikes in our Nice Ride system (which are essentially identical to the BikeTown ones except the orange livery) are coexisting with the older pedal bikes. The app allows you to check either type out, at different rates of course, and shows you how many bikes of each type are parked at each station (plus other locations for e-bikes, which are often parked at random locations).

And although the e-bikes don’t require being docked at a station (our stations are quite different than BikeTown’s bike racks, because the electronics for the pedal bikes are in the dock, without those fussy keypads), you CAN dock them at a station, where I believe they get recharged automatically. Nice interoperability.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

good intentions aside…why is it that we don’t think these won’t just end up as scrap? like so many mountains of scrapped bikes in china?

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Give them to the homeless.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Give them to the homeless.

9watts
Subscriber

are we singing a round here?

Joe Suburban
Guest
Joe Suburban

Dibs if they show up on govliquidation, govplanet, etc. Given their weight, it’s not likely they’ll disappear from porches + parts interchangeability is close to 0 with a Huffy. I think a $150 is a fair price for such a tank. Come on, ODOT, I’m sure Oregon will help you move those…

Scott F Kocher
Guest

Maybe city governments or utilities could use them for parking enforcement, reading utility meters, trips between offices, surveying burned out streetlights, missing street trees, lifted sidewalk panels, etc?

Racer X
Guest

Great idea… They might make better police bikes (mobility plus a shield / weapon.) 😉 [Roll eyes for sarcasm.] Now that Trek etc. have promised to not sell to the US police. And we can see them coming and maybe out ride them too.

Rob
Guest
Rob

“Now that Trek etc. have promised to not sell to the US police”

Not to derail from original article but where are you seeing this? I was under the impression that unlike Fuji and some other brands, Trek was piggishly sending out PR notices about how they are vital to police bikes.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Yep, they wont give up that market segment. How else will they stay in the Top Three?

Jason
Guest
Jason

To be honest though, using light weight, Trek bikes as human pushers is not impressive. Now, if you could lift an Orange Bike and user it to push humans, that would be impressive! But I suspect there’s more than body armor under those clothes.

Brian
Guest
Brian

If they weren’t so dang heavy, I would say that they would make great rewards for students in need. Teachers could nominate students who have improved attendance or classroom performance, for example. We could use any help we can get these days to incentivize increased student engagement.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I like this idea, but maybe the incentive structure is backwards. We could give these to kids with poor attendance or bad discipline as an incentive to improve.

Brian
Guest
Brian

If I gave my son his allowance at the start of the week, the yard would be full of dog crap. Kidding, of course. I can see the benefits of both options.

Josh chernoff
Guest

From yellow to orange, the circle is complete.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I don’t get all the complaints about the weight. Yes they are heavy, but that’s no BFD once you’re rolling. Except for a few areas like Mount Tabor, most of the BikeTown riding area where these were used was flat enough that weight didn’t matter that much. They’re still perfectly functional bikes.