Monday, 4 April 2011

Free's know-how

International bike blog Bike Radar reports that California State University Fresno has also recently installed two self-service bike repair stations on their campus. 

Judging from the pictures, these look identical to the Cambridge MA repair stations - but are painted a fetching red instead of zinc galvanised - so this is idea is evidently catching on, driven, I presume, by the bike stand's manufacturer.

Fresno's stations are located in front the University Student Union near the university dorms. These spots were chosen both for the security of being popular areas and because of the expected demand. If they're right, the university said it may install more stations in the future.

The school’s Alternative Transportation Fund paid for the program, according to Amy Armstrong, a public information officer with the California State University, Fresno Police Department.

“We plan on monitoring the use of the stations and expand the program if we see a high volume of use,” says Armstrong. “If this program increases the number of bikes on campus then it is definitely a success and worth the investment.”

Prior to the installation of the do-it-yourself repair stations, the only place on campus to repair a bicycle was in a shed in the plant operations agriculture yard. This shed was only open at times when a student was actually available to man it, so the two stations are already being seen as a bonus for students with bikes.

According to Bike Radar, these stations cost around $1000 each. 

Suffolk Bike Aid would like to inform anyone considering such a scheme in the UK that each of our Suffolk Bike Aid stations costs about £9, or $17 USD to purchase retail but zero cost if created by recycling old tools and a cardboard mailing tube.

I have spotted other models of 'free' bike repair stations on the web. This model (left) is found in Florida, USA.

However, a feature none of these stations appear to have is the provision of puncture repair tools and patches and glue. I find that omission surprising, considering these stands are supposed to be inspired by a scheme started on the MIT campus. Have America's brightest minds forgotten something?

These stations are ideal for a quick tune-up before or after a ride but they aren't going to get you out of trouble from the most common component failure on a bicycle; the vulnerability of the tyres to sharp objects like tacks, glass and cactus spines. Ideally, these stands would be outside a public place that could supply puncture kits, either for sale or pro-bono, on the Bike Aid model.

My issue with all the security measures built into these stands is that they are counter-productive to the ethos Suffolk Bike Aid aims to promote. If you say to someone "hey, this stuff is valuable" by chaining up something relatively trivial as a spanner, some people will feel challenged to steal it. 

Self-serve stations like this also don't give people a chance to interact; where human contract creates implicit trust, as well making it easier to identify any thief. Such opportunity for that human contact will lead to conversations and sharing of information, which then builds social capital. £1000 (as any price in dollars costs the same number of pounds in the UK) would buy a lot of spanners that the occasional jerk might pocket from a  Suffolk Bike Aid kit. But if those spanners were branded with a promotional message from a sponsor, the taking of them might even be encouraged.

Some entrepreneurs have tried to 'monetize' this evident demand for bike repair stations. 

A patent for a bike station and inner tube vending machine was filed with the US Patent Office in 2003 by one Richard Cofflet of Colorado. No evidence is found yet if one has actually got to market.

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