Collective bikes

It started simple (or at least simpler)*.  We wanted share the bikes which were available on campus, so we ditched the concept of private ownership.  Anyone could ride any bike anywhere.  There was a slightly complicating factor, in that you could have a touring bike, for off the farm use, which was in a nice covered shelter near Nashoba.

But of course with time it quickly became more complex.   First there was Emerald City,  This “industrial park” part of our campus is about a 5 minute bike ride and a 15 minute walk.  So the norm became if you rode a bike up, you would ride it back and therefore if you found yourself up there without a bike, you would not take a public bike from the lots and ride it to the main part of campus.

Then there were the kids (though they might have come first).  They did not fit on the adult bikes, they did not want to share their bikes with other kids (especially since they were often presents to just them).  So we started putting kids names on bikes and restricting use to just the person who’s name was on the bike.

the largest public bike parking area is in the courtyard

Then after i had been here for a few years a very popular member named Hans was bike manager.  He was popular because he worked hard, was very pleasant, helpful and energetic and pretty quiet.  After he was in quite good standing he made a highly heretical proposal.  Every member of the community who wanted their own “personal” bike could get one from the community, put their name on it.  Then they would park it in a slightly different location to avoid confusion between public and personal bikes.

The Status Quo Syndicate – SQS (also known as the grumpies) screamed “this is the end of another important sharing system!” “Our collective values are being undermined!” And this was perhaps the beginning of the end of the SQS.  Hans was patient, has responded to every concern on the O&I board which raged for weeks.  He kept refining the policy.  Made sure that “personal bikes” would not be repaired for “free” by the communities bike manager and to repair or maintain your own personal bike you need to fix it yourself or you needed to give someone else (including possibly the bike manager) labor credits to fix it for you.  If you road the collective bikes, they were maintained by the community for you.  This “tax” on private control was the last thing needed to seal the deal.

Hans was heroic in has reasoned and compassionate defense of his proposal.  He was also tenacious.  Ultimately, the overwhelming majority of the community thought it was worth trying and we did.  And as with almost everything we try, we never went back.   This is another example of the champion effect that i have been writing about recently.  It happened because both it was a good idea and because someone was willing to weave it through our complex decision making process.

Now we likely have something like 100 bikes on campus, perhaps 40 personal and 60 public.  You might argue that this is not a great ratio for a campus which has perhaps 120 people (including kids) using bikes at any given time.  But part of what makes the system work is distributing bikes across campus and being robust when some collection of bikes needs repairs for a while.  And we have a pretty high rate of bike usage in the community, my guess is it is higher than the national average.  And this is a total guess.

*[This is a slightly revisionist history, i dont know what the actual sequence of these events are, but i like telling the story this way and so it is.]