An organic approach to bike-sharing in Detroit

An organic approach to bike-sharing in Detroit

PHOTO: Nora Mandray /

DETROIT—Bike sharing programs have proven to be quite successful in cities across the globe, though conditions need to be ideal for the system to work.

Talk has been flying around Detroit the past year or so about implementing our own bike share system, but there’s a few factors that are working against us here, including a lack of consistent population density and a funding source.

“There are laws and regulations Michigan wants you to follow and I think to create a culture here that’s safe, good and healthy, we can get more civic activity and even investment, if we we’re respected and willing to work within their framework." ~Sarah Sidelko

But Detroit-based Fender Bender, a mechanic training program for women and the LGBT community, is taking a different, more organic approach to making a bike share system work in the city.

“I started thinking about it because it’s a feasible, practical way for people to have access to free or affordable transportation,” says Sarah Sidelko, one of four co-founders of Fender Bender. “The best way to do it is to have used bikes and then create an element where people feel invested in them, like it’s something they want to maintain and have around for a while.”

Sidelko has been refurbishing bicycles all winter and plans to debut about 30 used bikes during this year’s Allied Media Conference June 28-July 1. The Fender Bender Bicycle Lending Library will provide attendees with cheap and accessible transportation, which, she says, has historically been a challenge for the media-savvy assembly.

“It’s a pilot program,” she says. “I want to document it, follow all the things that go on with it, and in the end I want to see what was good and bad from the people who used the bikes. There are all these theories about how exactly it will work but it’s always different when you put it into practice.”

Training manualsHow it works

Like any bike sharing program, The Bicycle Lending Library will rent bikes out from one to four days with the single-day rental being the most “expensive” and adding days will make the rental cheaper. Sidelko says the program is going to be very affordable, but does not have the specific dollar amounts worked out yet.

In addition to renting a bicycle, the Library will also lend out a helmet, a bike light and lock and a map of Detroit, which will have an emphasis on bike lanes and greenways, and will have other prominent destinations peppered in.

Fender Bender has been providing workshops for two-and-a-half years in the city of Detroit and has hosted various programs and group rides, including the Full Moon Bike Ride, which puts emphasis on obeying traffic laws and educating participants on riding etiquette.

Having more than 100 participants in the program in just a few years, Sidelko has a knack for getting people excited about biking in Detroit to the point where “Fender Bendere-rs” are more than willing to help out with building bikes for the Library.

There are many members that keep things running smoothly at Fender Bender and include Kezia Curtis, Nora Mandray, Doc Richie, Jen Boyak, Carmen Regalado and Beren Ekrine and are crucial, Sidelko says, to helping the program reach its full potential. They are a completely integral part in running Fender Bender, and are working hard on launching their Kickstarter campaign for the Library.

Future Plans

While Fender Bender is busy piecing together the rest of the bicycle fleet for the conference, Sidelko says that’s not the only place the Lending Library will be deployed.

“The bikes will be available to everyone as the Cass Corridor Commons, and to their friends, if they need a bicycle,” Sidelko says. The bikes will also be used for group rides and transportation to gardens at this summer's inagural Gardening Advocacy Media and Education (G.A.M.E.) youth summer camp, which the Eastern Michigan Enviornmental Action council will host in an effort to educate Detroit youth about the importance of the city's green space as well as enviornmental stewardship. 

Trimming somethingA “crucial” component to the success of the Library will be the educational workshops that teach users how to maintain the bicycles, bicycle safety and road etiquette.

“There are laws and regulations Michigan wants you to follow and I think to create a culture here that’s safe, good and healthy, we can get more civic activity, and even investment, if we we’re respected and willing to work within their framework,” Sidelko says.

For Fender Bender, the most important aspects of the project are accountability and investment; they’re what will make or break a sharing system in Detroit.

“[Accountability and Investment prove programs] are useful and effective and make people see their value … and take ownership. We need to let communities be interested and involved, and let them build a lending library that works for their particular neighborhood,” Sidelko says. “I think it will be five or 10 years of development before this will work well.”


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Transportation Social Equity Bikeability Economics People Detroit | April 27, 2012 | Fender bender bike-sharing