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BikeSurfBerlin: Cycling into The Future‏

PHOTO - Joanna Michta

Riding a bike is the most eco friendly and healthy way to commute within the city, but then again, a city full of bikes leads to several other problems. So why not share bikes with each-other when we are not using them, instead of every individual owning one? This way we would need far less bikes for many more riders.

With this sort of thinking, one man is not only working in this direction but has also made it his mission. 36 year old Trust advocate Graham Pope has set up a bike sharing network in Berlin called BikeSurfBerlin. He calls it “cycling into the future”. And Graham is not alone; he has a team of volunteers working toward the same end and helping maintain this service.

Graham had this idea in mind long before he arrived here. He'd always dreamed that when reached Berlin, he would create a transport equivalent of an online couch-surfing (a network through which travellers can find, and offer, free accommodation).

“I had such a great experience couch-surfing but when I moved to Berlin two years ago I wasn't able to host people in my flat, so I thought: why not let them use my bikes instead?” Pope said.

He and a friend started with just three bikes, less than a year ago. Now, the BikeSurfBerlin team has 22 bikes and over 500 people who have used the service.

DIAGRAM - Judith Carnaby

Most of the bikes have been donated by people leaving the city who could not take their bike with them. Two were bought at police auctions for €10 and, he assured, they were careful never to accept stolen bikes.

“It's my passion,” said Pope. “It's not a job for me because it doesn't pay, but I have money saved and want to do something here that contributes to society.”

“Although BikeSurfBerlin hasn't been around long, it feels like we've been going for a while and have put in a lot of work.” Summer, he said, was by far the busiest time, with all the bikes booked for more a week in advance. Typically, a person can borrow a bike for up to two weeks, but when the weather gets warmer and tourists begin arriving, this will be limited to one week to “share the wealth.”

more than 50% of our users are now non-CouchSurfers; we operate the service out of 5 courtyards throughout Berlin ie Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauerberg.

He and his helpers were, he explained, trying to go against the standard model of bike rental companies. “I think it's great that a trust system like this can work.” Pope said, adding he was a big believer in people: “They are generally quite nice and don't try to rip you off, even if you give them the freedom to.”

PHOTO - Graham Pope

And of-course there is no better place than Berlin to test his idea, as for many here cycling is a favoured method of transport and even a way of life. “Berlin is flat and it isn't rainy,” he said. “I feel safe on the streets here and want to encourage other people to feel so too.” Unlike other cities less geared up for two-wheel travel, cycle paths weave across most of Berlin.

Although the idea  and the motivation are great, the money could prove to be an issue. The initial cost to start the network was just a couple of hundred euros, but more money is needed to maintain and repair the bikes. Last week a post on their blog reflects the problem aswell. BikeSurfBerlin is reducing their fleet from 22 to 10, because of the maintenance cost. On account of this, Pope said that “I think we're going to try to make our approach a bit more direct so we can recoup a bit.”

Pope is still optimistic about the project and is hopeful, as are we, that BikeSurfBerlin will find the money it requires to continue, because such socio-economic ideas are what we need today.

By Brancaleone Trevisano
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