Gallery: INTERVIEW: We Talk to Bicycle Library Founder Karta Healy


Last week, we showcased the Bicycle Library, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, and it was so unusual that we had to get in touch with its founder and pick his brain. We needed to know what makes a person wake up one morning and want to start a library where people take out bikes instead of books – and in a revamped double decker bus, no less?! So we caught up with Karta Healy, the driving (or should we say cycling?) force behind this mobile resource, and found out the answers to those questions and more – read on to see what he said.

Inhabitat: How did the Bicycle Library get its start?

Karta: It all started last September, when I did a cycle fashion show extravaganza during London Fashion Week. We rented two buses to showcase all my TWOnFRO designs and my friends’ brands such as Rapha, swrve, Cyclechic, Dashing Tweed, 4TN and Brooks. The buses were a key part of our layout of a London city street within the hallowed halls of Smithfield Market. I set up a test Bicycle Library for our guests and everyone loved it as much as me. That got me thinking…

Inhabitat: People love the fact that the Bicycle Library makes its home inside a converted double decker bus – can you tell us about where it came from and why you decided to revamp an old vehicle instead of opening up a more traditional storefront?

Karta: I fell in love with the size and space inside these buses – they carry a certain nostalgia for all of us. From there I searched for our bus -a Leyland Olympian. I found it after 3 months in Milton Keynes. Maggie she is called, because all of her identifying marks start with M, and also because we have a great poster of Margaret Thatcher on a bicycle!

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?

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  1. EcoHustler September 1, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    me likey!!

  2. msyin August 27, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Cool idea. This would translate well in places where riding is already done, where it is being encouraged and some might be able to introduce it into places that could well benefit from it despite the challenges presented by image, cars and theft. Maybe the next step is to come up with solutions for places where riding is taking off and then have a roll out plan for a full system in a town or city near us.

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