The Yellow Bike test balloon

Several years ago I proposed that Dayton join Denver in being one of the first to roll out the BCycle bike share system. It would have been about a $2 million investment, and would have put Dayton on the map in the news cycle as a major player and forward thinker in bik- sharing systems.

Several community leaders expressed interest- but, didn’t seem to understand either the costs, the revenue model, or the impact- and especially not the reason behind the seemingly expensive system.

Why are the Bcycle bikes “so expensive” they’d ask? The $3,000 price tag per seat- that’s bike and docking stations- comes from having bikes that are sturdy, safe, easy to adjust, and trackable. Not just so they can’t get stolen (the value of stealing these Bcycle bikes is low- since no parts are interchangeable with other bikes- and special tools are needed to work on them)- and because they have accountability built into them- both with check-out records and GPS.

So, despite having major parking issues at UD, WSU, Sinclair, MVH, LexisNexis – and dealing with these issues with a real solution- we decided instead  to roll out the “Yellow Bike” program. Yellow bikes are brightly painted bikes that are free- and randomly available around downtown. They hit the streets on the evening of the Spring Urban Nights. 50 bikes- free to be used.

A Yellow Bike in Dayton

A Dayton Yellow Bike

Photo of a BCycle

The BCycle- a complete solution for bike sharing

There are no signs explaining the program to riders- although there is a sticker on the bike with small disclaimer style text, and no way of keeping track of where they are, or aren’t. The bikes mostly seem to be an inexpensive mountain bike- far from the style of the Bcycle. The Bcycle has a basket for carrying items, a fully enclosed chain, full fenders, an easy step-through frame, easily adjustable seat and handlebar height, integrated light, bell and tracking system, The BCycle even has an integrated lock. The Yellow Bike has none of these- technically meaning you are riding them illegally if the laws are enforced (please see the post about the DPD harassing an intern for lack of bell and light from this site).

The beauty of a real system like BCycle is that you can actually depend on bikes to be in strategic places and track availability. Also, since the system is a “managed one” the bikes are rebalanced throughout the system so that they are there when you need them- the “magic bike.” Yellow Bike has none of these advantages. In fact- because there are no time limits imposed, nor ways of tracking them, and the number of bikes on the street is easily a third of what the standard formulas would call for – for just downtown, what this could lead to is a “we tried it- and it didn’t work” answer when someone decides to get serious about this concept.

While the city seems to have endless dollars to give away to rich developers and large corporations- we don’t seem to have money for amenities that enhance and add value to our community. Bike sharing won’t be for everyone- but, it does have a lot of pluses to it, including:

  • energy efficiency
  • encouraging healthy exercise
  • alleviating parking issues
  • making the community more affordable with transportation alternatives

Yet, we choose to do it half-heartedly.

Unfortunately, somehow bicycling as an alternative transportation option has somehow become a cause celebre of the YUPPIE creative class crowd- as states this graffiti I spotted the other day:

Hipsters ruined bicycles for me

Hipsters ruined bicycles for me



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17 Comments on "The Yellow Bike test balloon"

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Is there anything Dayton DOESN’T do half-heartedly?


David, your essay here seems less well-written than your standard efforts.  Perhaps you’ll want to re-work it?


David, as far as I know, this ‘program’ was the result of one guy–probably with some support from the bike advocates at the City–stepping up to the plate and making his idea happen without waiting on anyone else to do it. I went to visit Jeff Sorrell of the Life Enrichment Center a couple of years ago when he was just starting to think of various ideas for what he could do with the hundreds of bikes he had amassed through donations. A giant sea of bikes people (and Huffy) had given him. Yes, having garages full of bikes sounds pretty random, but if you’ve ever been to his massive LEC social-service compound you’ll understand. And yes, there’s a good chance people might steal the bikes, but I’ve heard that as a director of a faith-based charity helping low-income folks, he’s not so worried…if they really need the bike enough to steal, then he’s OK with that?
Again, I haven’t been involved in the past year so I don’t know the details of how it came together, but I wouldn’t heavily critique what might be one very busy man’s dream of getting more bikes out there on the street.

Jeff Dziwulski
Jeff Dziwulski
This yellow bike program comes closer to the original Provo “white bicycle” initiative from the 1960s (in the Netherlands, not here) than B-Cycle,  since it is a total honor system and an ad-hoc approach.  Yellow Bike is a bit more organized since they seem to have designated drop off/pick up points vs the Provo approach which was you ride your white bike somewhere and then leave it for someone to use.  The Provo scheme ended due to theft problems, as did a more recent Yellow Bike effort in, I think, Seattle.  So that is a big risk for the Dayton program.   I guess if there is a big enough supply of bikes maybe they can replace the ones that get ripped-off. It could be the part of this that survives and is sucessful is that non-profit Bike Shoppe, where they will be teaching people how to repair and build bikes.   There are a few of these around though I think not exactley like what is being proposed by the Life Enrichment Center. As for your closing cheap shot, if I recall right the goal of this Yellow Bike thing is more to get people riding for health reasons, to popularize biking maybe,  vs commuting.  And, since I use RTA a lot, the people I see using bikes on RTA aren’t yuppies.   Alot of them are young and a lot of them are black.  I also know of one veteran or retired military guy who takes RTA to the Wright-Patterson military hospital to see his doctors and then rides his bike back into town.  So much for hipsters ruining biking for you.  In Dayton I think the issue is the other way….peole who ride bikes for anything other than bike path recreational riding (which is socially acceptable)  are the same ones that use RTA…”those people”.  In the Dayton area riding a bike for other than recreation means you are a loser (ie can’t afford a car) or eccentric in some way.  I know there is supposed to be this bike summit coming up, but it seems sort of pointless since the who do ride bikes out of necessity aren’t these notional yuppie types. But thats a… Read more »
Jeff Dziwulski
Jeff Dziwulski

Is there anything Dayton DOESN’T do half-heartedly?

I’m surprised its being done at all.

That B-Cycle program David is advocating is the way to go , but apparently there wasnt support to get it off the ground.  Which is a sympton of a larger problem in our community;  the lack of resources or willingness to commit resources to make things happen or support things when they do happen.  This goes for projects, businesses, arts things, etc.  So yeah we might think B-Cycle is a neat idea, but the people & institutions & businesses who can fund it apparently dont think its neat enough to put money behind.

So, instead, as Kate notes,  apparently this one guy and his non-profit decided to make something happen with what limited resources he has.  Is something better than nothing?  David things the failure of this Yellow Bike thing will give potential backers an execuse to say “no”to B-Cycle.  But they havn’t backed it anyway, so machts nichts, I guess. 

So, right now, we have a shoestring ad-hoc bike share scheme up and running.


The yuppie hipster dig is divisive, silly, and beneath you.

Or, what Jeff said.  

Jeff Dziwulski
Jeff Dziwulski

The yuppie hipster dig is divisive, silly, and beneath you

That fixie phenomenon has a big hipster component to it, so the hipster/bike connection is there.   More a subculture/fashion thing.

The bike stuff I’m more familiar with are the intiatives coming from the more activist or comitted side of alternative culture, things like bike shops, Critical Mass, etc.  Coming out of the old DiY/anarchist/zinester world (and overlapping with that world).

good examples are Bici Digna/City of Lights from LA:

And Chainbreaker zine and bike shop down south, in New Orleans (I know them through their zine and DiY bike repair book)…but I think in the Carolinas too.  Another Chainbreaker group is in New Mexico:

There is also a bike shop thing up in Chicago that is doing what’s being attempted in Dayton, teaching young folks on how to repair and build bikes. Dont have a link for it.

This stuff is the part of the biking world I’ve become interested in. As you can see there is an aspect of social movement to it vs fashion statement or a form of recreation.

As I’ve pointed out before Jeff D- the use of public transit and bicycles can have a huge impact on the household budget (sorry, I can’t find the post right now- it showed that the cost of car ownership in the US equaled the cost of health insurance- coming in at third after housing and ….).

Hah!  That sounds like a great post!   I’m learning that right now via using RTA.  I still have a car but if I didnt I’d really be saving on insurance, too.  My next step is to get a bike and try using RTA combined with a bike for things.   I was thinking of using that Yellow Bike….the “banana boat”, as it was called by a patron of Bingers the other day….before I bought a bike but Im pretty tall and those bikes are not sized for big guys like me.   


Pity that Huffy bicycles is no longer in town…might be a way to trim the costs of an interesting project….the way Madison has Trek:


As mentioned above, this project was conceived and is owned by the Life Enrichment Center, a faith-based non-profit in east Dayton ( It’s one part of a larger Bike Shoppe program ( which provides a number of programs that teach kids and adults how to ride and maintain a bike as well as bike safety. Mr. Sorrell, the ED, is a part of the bike/walk committee and has worked with his partners there to implement the program. His vision is to provide free bikes to the Dayton community, especially if it’s a new means of transportation for those who don’t have a car. He has met with the city, the police, and a number of other agencies to explain the program–they all know what to do if they see a yellow bike somewhere or someone riding one.
He’s also partnered with some downtown businesses to provide bike racks with literature boxes. Off the top of my head, there are lit boxes with pamphlets describing the program outside of 5th Street Deli, on Sinclair campus, at Riverscape, and Olive, an urban dive (who generously reached out to Jeff to be a part of the program). These locations are where LEC will continue to introduce new or fixed bikes into the community. He plans on introducing large batches of bikes at every Urban Nights.
Jeff and the rest of his team at LEC are doing really amazing things to make Dayton more livable for all of its citizens. He should be commended for using his resources and connections to create a new, free bike program. His work should not be denigrated just because he didn’t put in $2million work of bike infrastructure and his bikes aren’t as flashy. by the way, they are in all different styles from cruisers to mountain bikes.

Donald Phillips
Donald Phillips

While I’m loathe to admit this, Mr. Esrati is spot-on in his yuppie/hipster dig. I participated in the pioneer years of Critical Mass in both San Francisco and New York City. W vioated any and as many traffic regulations as possible, creating vehicular bottlenecks galore. Confrontaions with the law were frequent. The then mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown, initiated a police crackdown because we blocked an ‘official motorcade’ and made him late to a gala at the Bohemian Club. Mayor Bloomberg followed suit after the Critical Mass ride following that coincided with the 2004 Rupublican National Convention at Madison Square Garden. 

After that the law-n-order yuppie-hipster courteous mass types coopted Critical Mass. They agreed to pre-authorized routes and pledged to obey traffic regulations.  Bicycle riding has gone totally legit in NYC. No fun in that.

Dayton’s ‘courteous crass” is a yuppie/hipster cadre that will invariably impose itself on everyone else via October Revolution subterfuges. Of course, they’ll overplay their hand just like they did during the “Creative Class” insurgency. That said, the Themador in Dayton is inevitable.


Mark: “Pity that Huffy is no longer in Dayton.”
It was a Celina company. One of my greatest moments as a reporter was when the U.S.W. held its strike meeting in the Mercer County Courthouse auditorium, and I was screwed in under the stage. When the meeting was over, my wife got me out and the Daily Standard had a verbatim account of the move to strike.

Jeff Dziwulski
Jeff Dziwulski

I participated in the pioneer years of Critical Mass in both San Francisco and New York City. We vioated any and as many traffic regulations as possible, creating vehicular bottlenecks galore. Confrontaions with the law were frequent

One of the reasons the SF Critical Mass was so disruptive was that the organizer was this anarchist/lefty guy named Chris Carlsson, who, before Critical Mass (or maybe there was an overlap) published the old Processed World zine, which did a great job of skewering the early days of “IT”.  So he had sort of a f*ck the system/civil disobeidience POV going into it.

Critical Mass was one reason I see the bike subculture having that anarchist/DiY/Punk/Zinester aspect to it.  I’d agree with Donald about that co-opting thing,too, taming and defanging the edgier Critical Mass ethos.

Anyhoo…back on topic….thank you erg for the backgrounder and the link.  We have more intel now on what’s behind the Yellow Bike thing…I see it’s more a subset  of or compliemnt to the Life Enrichment Centers programs.  The bike types availabe are varied, yes…and I did ride a nice taller one with a basket in front to Wimpy/Olive on Urban Nights.  The one back to CHS from the Oregon was lower.  No worries.  :-)

My next question is when will they set up a rack for pick up/drop off at Courthouse Square? Their flyer said this is being planned.  Do they need money for it?

Jeff Dziwulski
Jeff Dziwulski

On edit, upthread I forgot to post this link to BiciDigna, in Los Angeles.   This is a pretty cool effort.  I foun out about this at the US Social Forum up in Detroit last year…the people behind it gave a talk, panel discussion, and video of what they are up to.  Part of the Q&A had bike shop/workshop people from ALL OVER the US, which woke me up that there is this bike subculture out there beyond the recreational riding culture we have here in Dayton.

This is not  faith-based group but it seems in spirit a bit like what the Life Enrichment Center is doing, more of an inner-city orientation, perhaps.


@Jeff D CHS is managed by the County so I think LEC has to work with them to get a rack up there. Last I heard, Jeff at LEC was trying to build one out of spare bike parts….did I mention the folks at LEC are resourceful?


So, uh, David…where’s your bike program?
Cheers to this fella for actually doing something despite it “not being good enough” for you.