They are bicycle-sharing programs in the simplest form: No credit cards required. No identification needed. No locks, even.
The Minnesota cities of Willmar and Austin are declaring success as they wrap up new, on-your-honor programs designed to get more citizens out riding bikes.
In Austin, program leaders last spring unveiled 30 donated bikes that volunteers had refurbished and repainted bright red. They set them out at six new bright red bike racks with instructions to “Ride. Respect. Return.”
Steve Kime, who heads Austin’s Red Bike Program committee, said he often saw bikes in use throughout the summer. Program leaders also got some calls when the red racks were left empty.
“The demand exceeded the supply, and that’s not a bad thing,” Kime said. “We hope to just grow the program and continue.”
In Willmar, the Yellow Bike sharing program — in its second year — expanded to put about 80 bikes in circulation at one point over the summer. Far more than the 50 used in 2015.
“I think they got used quite a bit,” said Ryan Harper, adult recreation and facilities coordinator at Willmar Community Education and Recreation.
Some businesses bought bike racks to set up nearby for their workers, he said, and saw those racks empty out. “We would get calls from businesses asking to get some bikes back,” Harper said.
In both cities, people generally were respectful of the bikes, program leaders said. The biggest challenge has been getting all the bikes returned at the end of the season.
About 85 percent of the bikes were returned last fall in Willmar. The program hasn’t finished closing yet this fall.
In Austin, Kime and others put out a call for the return of the bikes earlier this month, but has collected only about half so far.
Kime said leaders understand that not all bikes are returned at the end of every season and losing a certain percentage to people in need is OK. “It’s a program to get people on bikes,” Kime said. The program has illustrated the need for bikes in the community, he said.
Kime said Austin decided to try an open bike sharing program after reading about the one in Willmar.
In Willmar, after leaders saw children riding the yellow bikes, which are adult-sized, leaders are considering the possibility of reviving a “Wheels for Kids” program that gave bikes to children in need. That program ended in 2014, after its main volunteer mechanic retired.
Both cities are continuing to take donations and convert unclaimed bikes from their police impound lots into shareable bikes.
Volunteers in Austin fix the bikes under the supervision of Rydjor Bike Shop, which also donates space to do the work. There, volunteers convert any donated bike into single speed to keep them simple and easy to maintain and repair. An auto body repair class at Riverland Community College painted the frames. Volunteers added baskets to each bike, too.
A state grant helped cover the cost of bike racks, but other program costs are covered through donations and volunteer work. The bikes are stored for the winter in a city building.
In Willmar, volunteers gathered at Rick’s Cycling & Sports Center in town to learn basic maintenance. They spray-painted bikes in a city parking lot and performed maintenance in a city auditorium room that was converted to a bike workshop. The Jennie-O Turkey Store donated $5,000 to get the program started.
“We’ll keep revising,” Harper said, “and get ready for year three next year.”
Austin hopes to at least double its number of shareable bikes next year. “Full speed ahead,” Kime said.