Rolling Out a New Bike Share Program in Portland?

Portland has an established bike infrastructure (including these cool racks) but until now, no dedicated bike-share program.
Portland has an established bike infrastructure (including these cool racks) but until now, no dedicated bike-share program. Sally Wilson
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For years, Portland has struggled to reconcile its reputation as a bike-friendly city with its glaring lack of a bike share system. Despite numerous attempts to launch such a program, Portland has watched as similar services hit the road (to varying degrees of success) in West Coast cities like San Francisco and Seattle.

City officials are in the midst of yet another public bike share initiative, with plans expected to be officially announced next week. But a new offering by peer-to-peer bike rental firm Spinlister is also poised to hit the streets with a pilot program, and Portland may soon be the first city in the country to take it for a spin. 

Here, an early look at how this new bike share program in Portland is gearing up—and what it might mean for local cyclists.

Bicycles built specifically for the Spinlister smart bike system will include puncture-resistant tires and a lightweight alloy frame.
Bicycles built specifically for the Spinlister smart bike system will include puncture-resistant tires and a lightweight alloy frame. Spinlister

Spinliste r turns the typical bike share model on its head by putting the success of the system in the hands of its most enthusiastic users. Rather than utilize a “central hub” model, in which riders return a bike to where they rented it, Spinlister hopes to popularize a decentralized model that relies on a network of user-owned bikes and passionate cyclists.

Spinlister already facilitates a peer-to-peer rental system for bicycles, surfboards, and snowboards throughout the country—think Airbnb for the outdoors crowd. But the company’s new “smart bike system” takes a different approach.

Here's how it's proposed to work: The new model, which will be offered concurrently with the company’s existing services, supplies users with Spinlister bicycles and allows them to rent those bicycles to other users. Riders use the Spinlister app or website to locate, pay for, and—using Bluetooth technology—unlock a bike; when they reach their final destination, they use those same services to secure it, eliminating the need to return the bike to a particular location. A portion of the revenue from each rental goes toward the bike’s owner, and a portion goes back to Spinlister (at least until the bike is paid off).

Each Spinlister bicycle comes equipped with an on-board computer.
Each Spinlister bicycle comes equipped with an on-board computer. Spinlister

Spinlister partnered with Dutch manufacturer VanMoof to create a top-of-the-line bicycle, equipped with clever technological features, exclusively for the new service. The custom bicycles will come with a Bluetooth lock that can be locked and unlocked through the Spinlister app, wireless antitheft tracking, and a lightweight alloy frame perfect for city rides. An on-board computer will track the bicycle’s location while rented (or in the event of theft), as well. 

Spinlister announced the new system earlier this year and zeroed in on Portland as its launch site. But there are a few questions about the service's legality and viability in the city, given that bicycles will be locked up in public spaces. Bike Portland recently dove into the potential challenges Spinlister may face as it tries to launch in Portland.

Portland is known as a bike-friendly city, thanks in part to programs such as Sunday Parkways (pictured). But it has yet to produce a bike share system.
Portland is known as a bike-friendly city, thanks in part to programs such as Sunday Parkways (pictured). But it has yet to produce a bike share system. Beth H.

Challenges from City Hall forthcoming or not, Spinlister remains energized by a city so passionate about cycling. “They just don’t view bikes superficially, but as a viable transportation option; that’s just who Portland is,” says Andrew Batey, Spinlister chief marketing officer, of the city’s avid cyclists. “The fact that people in Portland are highly responsive and community-driven, I think those are consequences of the type of culture that’s been created there.”

Batey hopes to launch the service in Portland this fall and is currently soliciting feedback from potential users on a number of issues, including maintenance, the size of the area in which bicycles will work, and other ownership-related concerns.

Once Batey gets a feel for how Portlanders will use the service, Spinlister hopes to start distributing bicycles and setting up the network. Batey hopes to launch the service in early fall but declined to give a more specific timeline.

“Portland has had a lot of heartache that comes from bike share,” he says. “I just feel like, when we do this, we want to do it right the first time and let the people see that we’ve built something that will last and is sustainable.”

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