Why some bike retailers are embracing bike sharing

December 21, 2017

by Kimberly Kinchen, business network writer

Bike sharing systems improve city bike infrastructure for all riders, but when they began proliferating all over the U.S. a few years ago, many local bike shops looked on with wary eyes and big questions. Would bike share lead people to eventually buy their own bikes, or would it hurt retailers, giving riders a means to ride without needing to make a big purchase?

Early anecdotal reports, according to news outlets, varied. Washington, D.C. shops reported brisk business after Capital Bikeshare launched in 2010. In New York City, shops reported depressed sales after the launch of Citi Bike in 2013. With limited data, some bike shops aren’t waiting around and have chosen to make the most  of bike sharing systems in their cities.

In Wisconsin, retailer Wheel & Sprocket supports Bublr Bikes. Their logo is prominently displayed on bike share baskets.

One of the easiest and most common ways for shops and systems to partner is for shops to offer helmet discounts. Sam Herr, executive director of the North American Bike Share Association, points to Boston. Hubway rolled out a low-cost helmet initiative in partnership with some local shops when the system launched, and those shops were featured on the bike share map. “Shops got publicity by partnering with the bikeshare system,” Herr says. She notes that because smaller cities often have bike sharing systems owned and operated by nonprofits, those systems tend to have more flexibility on partner shops. City-owned systems must typically avoid the appearance of playing favorites.

In Santa Monica, local shop Bike Attack offers a 20-percent discount on helmets and 10-percent discount on in-store accessories for Breeze system members. While bike share doesn’t bring new bike buyers into the shop every day, Bike Attack owner Kitty Monsalud says she does get regular visits from customers who were introduced to riding through the system. “They see that it is much more fun and much less dangerous than they thought,” she says. For Monsalud, most of the benefits her shop sees from the partnership are less direct. She chose to support the system, “for the love of cycling, for the sport and the community,” she says. “More bikes on the streets means less cars, and that’s a good thing.”

Great Northern Bicycle Co. staff working on bike share bikes in North Dakota (Image: GNBC)

Tom Smith, owner of  Great Northern Bicycle Co. in Fargo, North Dakota, was an early proponent of Great Rides. Today his shop contracts with the system to provide service and maintenance for its bikes. Smith views bike share as a boon for biking overall and believes that it is spurring more riding. Students at North Dakota State University are one of the system’s biggest groups of users and Smith says the university added bike racks soon after the system launched as a response to students bringing more of their own bikes onto campus.

Smith also believes that bike share is reaching more of the Fargo community and encouraging them to ride. “Bike share gets a lot of local recognition,” he says, “People who maybe never thought to ride their bikes as transportation will become more aware that their community has this system. I think it helps us to have an option  that reaches beyond our normal demographic.” Smith is confident that his shop, and even his competitors, are benefiting from bike sharing. “It is all about more butts on bikes,” he says, “a rising tide floats all boats.”

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