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Bike share programs provide recreation, transportation

Students often volunteer to paint bikes for the Blue Bike program in River Falls. Photo courtesy of the city of River Falls1 / 8
Riders using bikes from the free bike share program in Stockholm, Wis., operate on the honor system. No registration is required. Photo courtesy of stockholmwisconsin.com2 / 8
Blue bikes are a popular attraction to summer visitors in Stockholm, Wis. The bikes are in constant use. Photo courtesy of stockholmwisconsin.com3 / 8
Blue Bikes await users in front of the public library in River Falls. Photo courtesy of the city of River Falls4 / 8
The Lake City Bike Program loans these bike to users who fill out a registration form in the office of the Lake City Marina. Steve Gardiner / Rivertown Multimedia5 / 8
Blue bikes await riders in one of four dropoff spots in Stockholm, Wis. Photo courtesy of stockholmwisconsin.com6 / 8
The CrankWorx bike shop, along with several volunteers, helps maintain the Blue Bikes in River Falls. Photo courtesy of the city of River Falls7 / 8
The bike share program in Wabasha will require a credit card to unlock a bike, but there will be no charge if the bike is returned within 10 hours. 8 / 8

School is out, and the weather is warm. It's time to go for a bike ride.

Using different versions of bike share programs, several area communities have made it easier to enjoy that rite of summer.

"It is amazing how much those bikes are used," said Alan Nugent of the Stockholm Merchants' Association in Wisconsin. "You see people on those things all the time."

Stockholm

Stockholm's bike share program has been around a dozen years, making it the oldest such program in the region.

"We thought it was a great idea, because we are all about the experience of Stockholm, and we want to give them an experience they can't get anyplace else," said Nugent, who owns Stockholm Pie in Stockholm and the Pie Plate Cafe in Red Wing. "At that point, no one else was doing anything like this in the area."

Mike and Benita Warns of Minneapolis own Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles and offered to help. They collect donated bicycles, restore them, and give them to ride share programs and others. They have provided all the bikes for Stockholm's Blue Bike program at no cost. They also maintain the bikes each year to make sure they are safe for users.

"People ride all through the village, down to the park, down to the pier," Nugent said. "They can just leave them at any of the four stands anywhere around town."

Nugent said the program has a dozen bikes in use. "This is totally free. No registration. Pick up a bike, ride it, and drop it off at one of the spots no matter where you are going. It is an honor system, and it has worked very well."

Lake City

Lake City has set up a bike share program that works a little differently, according to Megan Smith, director of planning and community development. The Lake City Community Bike Program's bikes are new Sun Streamway bicycles purchased with Wabasha County through a grant called the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership.

"There is a partnership between the county who gave us the money, the city who gets the program up and running, and the Lake City Marina," Smith said. "The bikes have to be checked out at the marina front desk. There is a registration form. You go in and check out a bike and you get a key. That key unlocks a bike, and you can take it for the whole day."

This summer, Lake City added a shelter to cover and protect the bikes in the rack in front of the marina. The rack holds eight bicycles and Smith said two or three are checked out almost constantly with higher use on the weekends. Last summer, the fifth season, saw 250 checkouts.

"Many users are visitors to Lake City, and didn't bring their bikes with them," she said. "People just want to go for a bike ride. The feedback we get is nothing but good."

River Falls

Inspired by the program in Stockholm, several residents in River Falls created their own Blue Bike program which is run by the city. The bikes are all donated locally, so there is no expense for the bikes, and volunteers, including high school and elementary students, often show up to paint the bikes blue.

The program maintains two stations at Hoffman Park and DeSanctis Park for the free bikes . There is no registration or check out. Users need to provide their own helmets.

"There are usually five or six kids' bikes and two or three adult bikes at each station," said Mike Noreen, conservation and efficiency coordinator for the city of River Falls.

Maintenance of the bikes is provided by CrankWorx bike shop as well as a group of volunteers who work on the bikes throughout the year.

"We started this as a way of providing recreation," Noreen said, "but also as transportation for people that don't have the ability to get to a job. It has met that need quite well."

With no mass transit system in River Falls, the bikes have helped several people, including one woman who spoke at a Chamber of Commerce meeting and said the bike program had helped her get to work as well as lose 15 pounds, Noreen said.

Cannon Falls

The Cannon Falls Senior Center has four bicycles, two adult trikes with baskets, and a bicycle-built-for-two in their loaner program, according to Teresa Johnson. Bikes can be checked out at the Senior Center between 8 a.m. and noon. Riders must be 55 years or older.

"We are very close to the Cannon Valley Trail," Johnson said. "It is the perfect place."

Cost for bike use is $5 daily and $35 annually. Those who wish to ride on the Cannon Valley Trail need a wheel pass which is $4 daily and $25 annually.

The program, now in its second year, received funding from a Live Well Goodhue County grant.

Red Wing

The Red Wing Area Seniors have three bicycles and two adult trikes at Pier 55 that are available free to members. Riders can register for the bikes at the office inside Pier 55. They also provide helmets, locks, and a trail pass to the Cannon Valley Trail which is nearby.

"We hope that in the future we can expand and non-members could pay a fee and use the bikes," said Kim Wojcik, executive director of Red Wing Area Seniors, "but our first priority is to make sure that seniors have access to the bikes."

Wojcik did note that anyone, regardless of age, can join Red Wing Area Seniors for $37 per year and use the bikes, receive a newsletter, and get discounts on fitness events and trips.

Funding for the bikes was provided by Live Well Goodhue County, a local initiative of the Minnesota Statewide Health Improvement Partnership.

"Lots of people want to ride a bike, but they haven't done it in awhile," Wojcik said. "The barrier is that people are often afraid to get back on a bike, so we have classes called Biking 101 and Biking for Baby Boomers. They are no cost, open to anybody, and slowly get people back on a bike."

The community's Red Bike pilot project the summer for 2018 is not active this summer but is being reviewed, according to Live Healthy Red Wing.

Wabasha

Joining the list of towns featuring bike share programs this year, Wabasha kicked off its program June 14, according to Craig Falkum of the Wabasha Bicycle Club.

Like Lake City and Red Wing, Wabasha received financial help from the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership. City of Wabasha Public Bikes program will feature six Republic bikes with fenders, baskets and coaster brakes.

"The bikes will have soft solid tires, so there won't be any flat tires," Falkum said. "We won't have to keep pumping them up."

The bikes will be locked at a station on Main Street underneath the Wabasha bridge near the parking lot for Heritage Park. Helmets are available at River Rider Cycle two blocks away.

Users must download an app on a smartphone and have a credit card to unlock a bike.

"The first 10 hours are free," Falkum said. "After that, it is $5 per hour. The bikes have to be turned in by 10 p.m. We don't want people keeping them overnight, but they are free to check them out again the next day."

Summer fun

Though the programs are different in each community, they share the goal of providing recreation and enjoyment to residents and visitors alike.

Nugent of Stockholm said seeing people on the bikes is "like watching kids. These people go out on the bikes with glee on their faces. It's pretty incredible."

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

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