At least 30 people at the Green Fair will be riding home on bicycles as winners of Bicycling Magazine's BikeTown essay contest.
Founded in 2003, BikeTown has recognized community efforts to improve bike access by handing out more than 3,000 bikes to individuals who write an essay on what having a bike would mean for them. BikeTown Coordinator Lois Moss says essay writers are usually ready to get on a bike; they just need a little push.
"This pushes them to get on a bike and, sometimes, changes their life," she says.
Winners have lost weight. Some have even been able to get off diabetes medicine. There have been stories about overcoming depression and a strong response from winners who have saved money on their daily commute. One priest wrote in to say that the time on the bike has helped with his sermons.
Moss says that the response in advance of the event has been larger in Charleston than any other city this year,
Other cities on the BikeTown tour this year include Boston, Minneapolis, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Denver. The program is co-sponsored by Jamis Bikes and Metlife.
The bikes handed out in Charleston will be Jamis Commuter 2s, assembled by Charleston Bicycle Co. Owner and General Manager Mike Tremann calls the bike "nice, casual, and comfortable," good for riding downtown or the West Ashley Greenway. They're also easy to adjust for different riders and simple to maintain — both important factors for new riders.
The quality of the ride is another adjustment. A bike from a big box store often offers little comfort regarding the caliber of the parts, and it usually isn't assembled by a professional. The Jamis Commuter and other bikes at CBC come with a service plan and warranty program. Valued at $465 (plus a complimentary bike helmet), the bikes should last up to 30 years with routine maintenance, including occasionally airing the tires and oiling the chain, as well as an annual tune-up.
John Glover, another CBC owner, notes the BikeTown program's Lowcountry stop is good for business, but it's also a recognition of Charleston's growing bike community.
"I think it also highlights all the hard work and recent success stories of Charleston's cycling community pushing to improve bike infrastructure, local ordinances, and acceptance of cycling on the roads," Glover says.
Recently, the city was named a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. City planners recently completed a months-long bike survey, with questions about how residents use bikes (commuting, recreation, or exercise). The survey also asked residents who don't ride a bike regularly what was keeping them off two wheels.
Moss says that a bike-friendly community isn't required, but is appreciated when BikeTown arrives.
"It's something that seems to make BikeTowns more successful," she says.
Local groups are also making the giveaway more successful. The regional Council of Governments is donating light sets for the bikes, and Coastal Cyclists is providing bike locks.
"Both of these are a sign of the wonderful community support and enthusiasm we've received for BikeTown in Charleston," says Moss.
And essay winners aren't the only ones going home with a new ride. Moss says BikeTown will be raffling off at least one bike at the event.