It sounded like a trick question. “Do you know the guy who started bicycle benefits?”
I assumed Greg was talking about the bicycle benefits included in the Bicycle Commuter Act of 2008. When I worked at the BTA, that’s what we called the employee benefit where we received a small amount of money each month for biking to work.
Greg gave me a puzzled look. Apparently he’s not familiar with my bike-advocating congressional representative. After a brief conversation, Greg revealed that he was talking about a non-profit called Bicycle Benefits. He had shot a portrait of the founder, Ian Klepetar, for the touring cyclists portrait gallery.
Greg sometimes likes to extract as much information as possible out of some of his portrait subjects, and asked me to do so for him by interviewing Ian. Yes, my internship is over—but I still seem to be coming into the office almost daily and have been picking up some volunteer assignments while I’m still in Missoula.
Friday I sat down with Ian (above, drinking mate) and learned more about Bicycle Benefits.
Ian started the program in 2006, in his hometown of Saratoga Springs, NY. Bicycle Benefits encourages people to use their bike for daily trips such as grocery shopping, going to cafes, etc., by incentivizing it. How? Participating individuals purchase a sticker for $5 and affix it to their helmet. The sticker is shown at participating businesses, entitling the bearer to some kind of discount or freebie. The sticker never expires, and is valid at all participating businesses—meaning if you buy your sticker in Salt Lake City and move to Seattle, the discounts in your new town are all still available to you.
Ian eventually left Saratoga Springs and now bikes around the country expanding the Bicycle Benefits program into new markets. When he’s approaching a new city, he says he usually targets a local coop or grocery store first. After all, he says, “…everybody gets groceries. And having a foundation for the program makes it less labor intensive on my side. Even if [a grocery store is] the only place in town on board with the program, we’ll be successful.”
Portland, as it turns out, only has two businesses participating in Bicycle Benefits, neither of which are a grocery store. While I know of many businesses that offer discounts to cyclists, I was surprised that the program hasn’t spread more in our fair city. Maybe it’s because Ian hasn’t journeyed to Portland yet—and at the moment he’s heading towards Minneapolis.
What do you think? Would Bicycle Benefits be successful in Portland, or is cycling so ingrained in our city that business owners wouldn’t sign on, as their profits may be seriously threatened by such a program? Do you have any advice for Ian on bringing Bicycle Benefits to Portland?