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Free bikes on loan at McMaster University library

At the Campus Bike Library, anyone with a McMaster University library card can borrow a bicycle at no cost.


People are borrowing more than just books from McMaster University’s libraries. At the Campus Bike Library, anyone with a McMaster library card can now add a bicycle to their check out.

“We catalogue the bikes just like books: we assign them a serial number and put them in the library’s catalogue system,” says Shiloh Covey, a recent McMaster grad and director of Start the Cycle, the non-profit bike-sharing program that established the bike library. “It’s like adding a few more books to the shelf.”

Bike share programs are a growing trend on Canadian campuses. The University of Calgary recently started a bike share with an annual membership fee of $10 and an additional $5 to $10 charged per rental. Carleton University launched a bike share last year with $5 daily rentals. McMaster even has a second bike rental service on campus – a paid program called Social Bicycles.

Start the Cycle stands out, however, because it’s free to use. Borrowers simply present their library cards to check out one of the library’s 10 bikes – along with a lock, helmet and light – for up to 48 hours.

“We want to encourage physical fitness and free transportation for students.”
“We want to encourage physical fitness and free transportation for students.”

“We purely want to encourage physical fitness and free transportation for students, so we don’t want to have pressure or stresses that students feel when they have fines,” says McMaster librarian Lynne Serviss, who coordinates Start the Cycle at the university’s Mills Library. “It’s growing in popularity and it’s certainly a huge success on this campus,” she says. “[Bicycles] are almost gone all the time. People are asking to pre-book bikes now.”

Because of the program’s popularity, Ms. Serviss says there are plans to add more bicycles in the near future. She notes the partnership with Start the Cycle not only encourages physical activity, but also promotes the library.

“I think it provides an opportunity for us to showcase other things that we do, other than just circulate books. We have a service and infrastructure that circulates a variety of things, so it’s important for us to be part of that community,” she says.

Charles Burke, a PhD candidate studying transportation geography at McMaster, co-founded Start the Cycle in 2014 with Justin Hall, who was his lab partner and a master’s student at the time.

“We started this little bike share program where people could come to our lab and borrow a bike,” Mr. Burke says. “People [were] knocking on the door all the time.”

Mr. Burke says his goal is to make Start the Cycle free for all parties through sponsorships and ads. Until then, the host institution pays operating costs. For its part, McMaster contributed $5,000 from its Forward with Integrity fund, a campus improvement and innovation program, to pay for identical bicycles and helmets.

Start the Cycle also has a successful bike exchange at Hamilton’s Mohawk College and plans to expand the program to other postsecondary institutions soon, says Ms. Covey.

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