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“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.  Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”

-Ernest Hemingway


Although the bicycle revolutionized transportation in the late 19th century and has retained a popular recreational allure ever since, it is unrealistic to imagine a return to the pre-automobile days when bikes ruled the road.  According to David V. Herlihy, author of Bicycle: The History, the bicycle “has always addressed two basic needs: the utilitarian (cheap and efficient transportation), and the recreational (a fun, healthy way to exercise).”  But in an modern, industrialized nation such as the United States, can bicycles offer a viable commuting alternative for the masses?  It’s hard to believe that in a world where Porsche, Maserati, and Aston Martin each have “practical” family sedans, and where bigger is better and faster is finer, we could ever return to a simpler, healthier, and greener mode of transportation.  But, one company, Zagster, is going to try…

Zagster, a Massachusetts start-up, aims to deliver bicycles on demand to universities, corporate campuses, apartment complexes, hotels and resorts, etc., creating a “coveted building amenity and corporate perk,” according to the NY Times article “A New Model: Cycle Hire, for Hire.”  Last Thursday, Zagster, formerly called CityRyde, announced a $1 million round of investments that will allow it to expand nationally.  Each bike is outfitted with a lock box that can be opened using a code received via text message at the start of their session.  Unlock the box, remove the bike lock, and you’re ready to ride!

On-demand bikes are an increasingly popular alternative for commuters and those looking to run errands or get to appointments.  Readily available bicycles, such as those offered by Zagster, “bridge the gaps in transit services between home and station, and between station and workplace – the so-called first- and last-mile problem.”

Regardless of the accessibility and practicality of a bike-on-demand program, we won’t effectively integrate a system such as Zagster’s on a wide scale without addressing cultural acceptance and geographic constraints (the sheer size of the U.S. is daunting to many would-be bikers).  Mr. Herlihy believes that “there’s no reason why Americans can’t make much better use of the bicycle, perhaps with a little more enlightenment and encouragement.”  I hope he’s right.