Inhabitat: Can you tell us a little about your in-house “librarians” and your borrow to buy program?
Karta: Librarians are there to assist you with any questions, which are answered via their expertise, as well as the books and magazines in the reference library, which is a complete selection of all the best books on bicycle design, culture and history. There is also a set of iPads to browse all of our bookmarked cycling websites, which are organized according to the 7 sub categories of bikes we advocate for the city.
The Borrow to Buy program is a rent-to-own system with an emphasis on trying many types of bikes in a week, or every week. The total days of bike borrowing is subtracted from the price of the final decision – hopefully a bike for life!
Inhabitat: What is your most popular bike right now? What is your own personal favorite bike to ride?
Karta: Our most popular bike category is the electric bike by far, and we have some very special models that really give a snap of the neck with a twist of the wrist. Also, the cargo bikes are very popular, especially the Bernds model with its super-sized wicker basket. My personal favorite is my bamboo bike I built for myself – it flexes enough to soak up the shite London streets’ surfaces, and is unique enough not to be stolen… yet.
Inhabitat: What do you think is the biggest obstacle keeping people from riding bikes and how do you think we can change that?
Karta: Each city has a different set of challenges, and London, my city, is a battlefield. Cars are keeping cyclists from multiplying, and the HGV’s are subtracting us even. Best we ban smoking tailpipes in cities, just as we have rid bars of their cigarette fumes already. There are many reasons, safety being the obvious one, due to said motorists.
Another one is image – whether tribal, lycra, or hipster, none say: “I have a real job”. The stigma of sweaty dishevelled students with a hangover on creaking bicycles, although we were all happy with that at one time, has to be outgrown. The sense of aspiration and achievement are typically forsaken for the bicycle in image only. Nowadays there are so many premium, stylish options, even e-bikes that keep you from sweating.
The other obstacle is bike theft, which must be supervised by NATO or somebody with the balls to tackle it. Studies show that when someone has their expensive shiny bike stolen, they will go out and buy one half the price, when that gets stolen, they will find the cheapest possible bike which they will hardly use, and if that gets stolen, they are back on the underground, or even worse, behind the wheel of a car. Cities need to introduce valet parking for bicycles, supervised parking areas, and even automated underground systems like the ones in place across Japan.
We couldn’t agree more! Karta makes it sound easy but we’re sure it was tough work setting up this impressive roving cycle library so congratulations to him and his crew. Kind of makes you want to set up your own Bicycle Library in your own city, doesn’t it?