Published on March 13th, 2009 | by Kelli Peterson9
B-cycle: Can it work in the U.S.?
Today Alex Bogusky, Chairman of Crispin Porter + Bogusky is set to speak at SXSW on the topic of bike sharing. CPB is one of the three founding partners of B-cycle, a concept which has been quietly gaining support in cities around the U.S. and which has been launched, under another company, to a degree of success in Paris.
The question is, can it succeed here? The opportunities for success and a few challenges follow…
The right backers.
Announced as the brainchild of Humana, Trek and Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, B-cycle has hit the ground spinning. Their web site alone shows how the creativity of an advertising agency can be a powerful partner in establishing immediate appeal with a target audience. As a world-class ad agency, they will have done a thorough job researching their prospect segments to create a plan that addresses the B-cycle adoption drivers (e.g. is the docking station next to a coffee shop?) vs. simply crafting a utopian concept.
Trek, the bike that Lance Armstrong rides and therefore the default supporter of LiveStrong, has also built a solid reputation over the years for supporting programs that bring the benefits of cycling to a broader audience beyond the elite riders that many of their specialty bike lines appeal to. They have deep pockets and bring a sincere open-minded passion for creating access to the sport.
And with Humana, a health insurance provider, as the third partner, the effort to bring B-cycle to market takes the tone of a citizen effort vs. a commercial effort. An important cue in the endeavor to address such lofty issues as human health and the environment.
Together these three make a powerful force – not the least is their combined resourcefulness in developing health advocacy, attracting attention and navigating the tricky waters of a totally new consumer concept.
The right idea.
Americans are getting fatter. We are looking for ways to downsize everything. We are looking for ways to spend less money. We seem to have more time on our hands (mostly because we have less money). And we are in a depressed time that is driving us to consider alternatives to pretty much everything. B-cycle just may have hit the timing right.
Americans are now more community-minded than ever. Our insularity and self-sufficiency has dissipated along with our wealth in ways that make us more open to public everything. B-cycle comes to us with some pretty progressive thinking and is packaged in a compelling way. The (interactive) web site hits on all of our most talked about concerns, addressing specific facts for our unique zip codes: gallons of gas saved, carbon emissions reduced and yes, calories burned. We even have the seeming ability to request a B-stand in our own city.
The right time?
Interestingly, there has been much discussion in the bike blogosphere about how bike-sharing can succeed in a time of civic financial despair. It is not readily clear who pays for the start-up costs but one assumes that cities will need to pick up a portion of the tab as the maintenance of the program, once established, will pay for itself.
The Bike-sharing blog has outlined how cities could collaborate under a discretionary portion of the stimulus package to purchase a larger quantity of stations and also outlines how this larger number is actually necessary for the system to succeed.
It is also not stated just how much a ride on a B-cycle will cost but presumably the amount would complement the placement and convenience of the bike to appeal to a demographic that is feeling the effects of the economy.
But what about helmets?
Contrary to popular belief, wearing a bicycle helmet is only illegal under the age of 18 according to laws in most states and counties. But if you happen to live in an uber-bicycle friendly city – such as San Francisco – popular opinion will have you feel as if you are breaking the law to venture out with a “naked” head.
To date, B-cycle doesn’t address the helmet issue. And it’s a pretty big one. Helmets cannot be taken lightly and could prove to be a serious bump in the road for B-cycle unless a campaign or partnership to support the wearing (and purchase) of helmets is undertaken.
Ground breaking or just – breaking.
Velib, a similar program launched in Paris 18 months ago, initially met with wild success but has recently been publicized as a potential failure. In mid-February, news reports on BBC and even videos posted on YouTube tell the story of extreme vandalism and theft which has reportedly put over half of the 20,000 fleet bicycles in an un-repairable state. JCDecaux, the company that runs the program, has been quoted as saying the system right now is not self-sustainable and the future of bike sharing in Paris is uncertain. With the consequences of a failing economy already effecting a rise in crime, one wonders if the same fate might not be in store for such an idealistic venture.
Much has been said about innovation in times of necessity. Mostly, the B-cycle has all the markings of a concept that could be really successful and for which people might be really open to given the right marketing and education around it. Urban bicycling could be made cool. We could get healthier. And the planet could benefit from some carbon reduction. Could the right partnership with some super smart thinking get us closer to all of that?