McMaster students will stock libraries with bikes for kids to borrow

A group of McMaster students hopes to spark interest for kids to borrow bikes from libraries, an effort it sees as a complement to the city's new SoBi Hamilton bike share.

Start the Cycle holding a youth and adult bike drive this weekend

Start the Cycle wants to provide bikes that kids can borrow from libraries for free. Kids as young as these 4-year-olds may want to bring a parent along. (Charlie Litchfield/Idaho Press-Tribune/AP)

With spring around the corner, bicycling is picking up steam again in Hamilton.

And as the city's bike share formally launches, another group is growing its own bike library aimed at children and youth.

McMaster geography students are working to place bicycles at libraries around the city that people can check out and ride. Unlike the new SoBi Hamilton bike share program, people younger than 16 years old are allowed to borrow these bikes, for free.

"How do you create a lifelong cyclist? You have to start young," said Shiloh Covey, executive director of Start the Cycle. "And you have to provide bikes."

With five bikes currently available for borrowers at McMaster's Mills Library, Start the Cycle is seeking donated bikes to bring adult and youth bikes to three more libraries this year, including one at Mohawk College and two elsewhere in Hamilton. 

The bike drive runs Friday through Sunday and organizers will come pick up bikes from donors who email them.

Borrowers go into the library like they're checking out a book, but instead they check out a helmet with a bar code and a lock to retrieve their borrowed bike. They have 24 to 48 hours to borrow the bike, and must return it during library hours. Covey said the team is not worried about theft, because the bikes are painted with logos and are obviously part of the program. 

"It's like if you saw a SoBi bike sitting in someone's garage," she said. 

Covey said it costs about $1,000 to bring the program to any library branch. The costs can be low because it uses the existing borrowing infrastructure, she said.

"If a library were to get a couple of more books it wouldn't cost a lot more."

So far, Mac Cycles has maintained the Start the Cycle bikes. The organization, founded by geography grad students Justin Hall and Charles Burke, hopes to find other partners who believe in the project and are willing to donate or subsidize the upkeep of the bikes.

McMaster and Geographers Without Borders provided the initial funding. The team hopes to win a student startup competition on campus later this month.

Earlier this year, the team enlisted the help of young programmers at a McMaster hackathon to code its website.

What's the connection to geography? 

"Geography is a very broad subject," Covey said. "We're trying to connect people and provide access to active transportation."


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