BENNINGTON — A community bike program that lay dormant during the COVID-19 pandemic may be back on two wheels.
The city and the Bennington Bike Hub, a nonprofit bicycle group, signed a memorandum of understanding to transfer ownership and management of eight community bikes from the city to the Bike Hub, which operates a store at 160 Benmont Ave. .
City communications coordinator Jonah Spivak said a community bike program was originally the idea of Steve Hinchliffe, former owner of the former Nature’s Closet store here. The program made the bikes available free of charge at participating Bennington businesses.
“The idea was to mainly serve hikers [hiking the Appalachian and Long trails]sightseeing and needing transportation,” Spivak said, but the bikes were available to anyone who wanted to borrow one.
After Nature’s Closet moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts, the program was managed by the Better Bennington Corporation, which stored and signed bikes from the downtown visitor center.
The pandemic then kicked in and the bikes were put into storage, where they sat unused for the past two to three years, Spivak said. With the formation of the nonprofit Bike Hub earlier this year and in support of Bennington’s designation as an Appalachian Trail community, the town saw an opportunity to resurrect the program, he said. .
On September 9, the city delivered eight bikes from the former community bike program to the Bike Hub.
John Gadbois, one of Bike Hub’s mechanics, was on hand, along with Bike Hub’s Chairman of the Board, Al Bashevkin, to meet with Dan Cornell and Steve Langlois from the City Buildings and Grounds team, who delivered the bikes.
Gadbois has experience with a similar backpacker-focused community bike program that he currently operates in Cheshire, Mass.
“We’ll start by doing the necessary maintenance on the bikes,” Gadbois said. “We plan to start having bikes available in the spring.”
The bikes will be branded with painted forks and seatstays to make them more identifiable as community bikes. For starters, the bikes will be available at the Bike Hub store during regular hours, Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“We will be looking for additional sites and volunteers to make the bikes available for pick up and drop off at overtime,” Gadbois said.
Bicycles will be available free of charge.
Chris Callahan, Bike Hub Group Vice President, added: “We hope to have more than eight bikes available this spring. This is powered by our [bike] donation program, which is wreaking havoc.
BICYCLE HUB OBJECTIVES
In addition to running the community bike program, the Bike Hub is committed to increasing overall bike use and providing low-cost bikes to anyone who wants one.
The group’s stated mission is to promote healthy lifestyles, empower young people by developing their skills, confidence and independence; make cycling accessible and safer for everyone; build a strong cycling culture and community; and to encourage the use of bicycles for transportation as well as for fun, fitness and adventure.
Planning for the Bike Hub had been underway for some time, members said, but really took off last summer with the purchase of the assets of the former Highlander Bicycle store at 160 Benmont Ave. in August.
More information about the group is available on ourbikehub.com.
Andrew Hall, son of Highlander Bicycle founder Peter Hall, was instrumental in founding the nonprofit, Spivak said.
“The Hub has been busy!” said Hall, who works at the store. “We do a lot of repairs and take a lot of interest in our refurbished bikes.”
Refurbished bikes, which often sell for around $100, are of good quality and a way to get people into cycling cheaply, he said. Used bikes can be donated to the Hub and are tax deductible.
Donated bikes are worked on by volunteers, some of whom are just beginning to learn repair skills with help from Bike Hub staff. The bikes undergo a final review by one of the main mechanics and will then either be offered for sale at a reasonable price or “released into the wild” – to join the initial fleet of community bikes.
The focus on low-cost bikes and running the community bike program is part of the overall mission to increase bike use and introduce young people and people in general to cycling, said the group members. The goal is to encourage people to develop a passion for riding on two wheels that can last a lifetime.
Cycling is also a viable alternative mode of transportation, which is good for the environment and encouraging communities to develop more bicycle-friendly infrastructure in the future.