Bike Library Manifesto

The SAFL Bike Library Plan

by Jon Schwenk and Kevin Howard

Why a Bike Library?

The SAFL campus is a unique branch of the University of Minnesota because of both its community and location. SAFL sits beside the Mississippi River just upstream of the Stone Arch Bridge, approximately a mile by road from the main campus. Currently many students walk or drive this mile because they either lack bicycles or it’s very inconvenient to bring their bikes to SAFL each day.

SAFL also hosts a number of visiting researchers and post-docs whose tenures are approximately a year and oftentimes less. For these researchers, purchasing a bike for such a short time doesn’t make sense. A bike library would provide longer-term loan options for these researchers.

Although we haven’t conducted a formal survey, casual conversations revealed that many students and staff were excited about the prospect of a bike library. The library would save researchers time by providing a convenient and quick mode of travel between SAFL and the main campus (or elsewhere). Based on initial feedback, we believe there is sufficient interest for a SAFL bike library to be established and fruitful.

Mission Statement

The SAFL Bike Library provides an easily accessible fleet of dependable bicycles to SAFL students, staff, researchers, and visitors for free. The Library also provides lights and locks for each bike and helmets for the borrowers. A team of “bike librarians” composed of students, post-docs, or any SAFL staff repair and maintain the existing fleet and expand or replace when necessary. The Library is designed sustainably to encourage minimal costs and ensure its continuation.

First Steps

NCED purchased a number of bicycles in the mid 2000’s for students to borrow short-term. However, there was no system in place to maintain or otherwise check up on the bikes, and they soon deteriorated. Some of these bikes remain, and we have repaired them as much as possible. We have also acquired bikes from other sources: three have been donated (although all three require repairs) and some were found in the Quonset Hut.

Our initial plan is to restore at least six of the bikes sufficiently to begin the Bike Library. Although the labor is free the parts and tools are not. We’ve been using our personal tools, but this is inconvenient and we don’t have all the necessary tools to repair these bikes. Due to the construction at SAFL finding a workspace has also been difficult. We had been setting up shop outside the Quonset hut, but cold and rainy weather remove prevents work. We also spend much of our time setting up/putting away the shop. We hope to find a small, semi-permanent workspace within SAFL to house the tools and allow us to work on our schedule instead of the weather’s.

Revised First Steps

After further consideration, we decided to take an alternative approach. Fixing the bikes we already have is proving to be too time-consuming, and it’s likely that maintenance will be more intense for those bikes. Due to time constraints, we think purchasing a small fleet of new bikes is the best option. Not only will these bikes require less maintenance, their newness and uniformity will help establish the Library by making its bikes attractive and recognizable. A revised budget is being constructed.

Master Plan

Ultimately we envision a fleet of low-maintenance bikes commensurate with demand. We also hope to establish a well-equipped workshop on the SAFL campus accessible to students. This space will allow students to maintain and repair bikes and learn about bike maintenance. We have discussed many ideas about how the Library can be implemented, including fundraising, stimulating researchers to use the Library, filing systems, tutorials, etc., but these are future issues. The guiding principle of the Bike Library is sustainability. The following paragraphs detail realistic measures we can implement as the Library grows to ensure its sustainability.

Sustainability: Bike maintenance and repair can be very time consuming. Student bike librarians will graduate after a few years; therefore the Library should be designed and operated so that few volunteers are needed to maintain the program. The following list details some steps we are taking to ensure sustainability:

1)      Single speed bikes. Multi-geared bikes require substantially more cost via derailleur adjustments, cleaning, general maintenance, and parts. The simplicity of single speed bicycles eliminates these costs while making bikes easier to operate.

2)      Self-service workspace. A small workshop in a dedicated space will encourage both borrowers and those with their own bikes to perform maintenance and repairs themselves, thereby reducing the workload of the librarians. For example, chain lubrication and tire air pressure can be performed by the users.

3)      Basic maintenance and repair training. In concert with 2), the librarians can offer occasional tutorials on basic maintenance so that borrowers and others can carry some of the workload. Such workshops will also generate interest and momentum to help sustain the Library.

4)      Efficient administration. For the Library’s success, the borrowing process must be very simple. Our philosophy is to be as hassle-free as possible. For the Library’s continued success, its management must also be streamlined and simple—minimize paperwork and nuanced rules.

5)      Low cost. Perhaps the biggest barrier to success is financial cost. The best way to minimize this cost is to acquire quality bikes. Quality bikes are not necessarily expensive, as used ones can be purchased rather cheaply. We can also work with the U of Minnesota’s existing bike program for deals and accessories. Outgoing students (and others) may be willing to donate their bikes to the program.