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Fargo's bike-share program hits the brakes

The bikes, which sat in storage since late 2019, have been sold to the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District.

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Great Rides bike-share bicycles sit mothballed in a warehouse in downtown Fargo on July 28, 2021.
David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — It looks like Fargo’s loss is Bismarck’s recreational gain.

A popular bike-share program, facing an uphill climb due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a stalled agreement with project partner North Dakota State University, is no more.

Many of the bikes and other related pieces of equipment have been sold to the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District.

Tom Smith, director of Great Rides, said the Fargo nonprofit and NDSU student government were not able to solidify a new service agreement for the bike-share program.

“It’s with some heartbreak that we saw that thing end up the way it did,” said Smith, who also owns Great Northern Bicycle Company in downtown Fargo.

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The approximately 100 bicycles had been gathering dust inside a downtown warehouse since late 2019, when they were last stored away before the pandemic hit a few months later.

The bikes did not come out of storage at all in 2020.

A spring 2021 launch was discussed, but uncertainty over COVID-19 cases and changing protocols put it on hold.

In August last year, Smith said he was still hoping to bring the bikes out in the fall when students come back to campus.

“It’s not an if, it’s a when,” Smith said at the time.

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Great Rides bike-share docking stations are seen in a warehouse in downtown Fargo on July 28, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

The bikes were used almost exclusively by NDSU students, and high use created wear and tear on the bike kiosks.

Smith said better hardware and software were needed, and he hoped NDSU would make a financial commitment toward that end.

The student body had a say because a portion of student fees went toward unlimited 30-minute rides for students who enrolled in the program.

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NDSU Student Body President Christian Walth told The Forum he learned from his predecessor there was an opportunity to review the bike-share program as it had not been in use due to COVID-19.

"Student Government was allocating a large portion of their budget to fund this program, and after reviewing it from a financial perspective and communicating with the Bike Share provider, it was determined the program no longer made sense for our campus," he said in a statement.

Walth said the program would have cost more than previous years due to over a year of no use and a need to upgrade the bikes.

Students on campus were asked about allocating funds elsewhere, and many favored funding more sustainable, year-round programs, he said.

Smith said it was great having a stable client in NDSU, but there was also great risk in being so closely tethered to one plan.

Bicycles have been in high demand ever since the pandemic hit.

Prior to selling the Great Rides bikes, docking stations and kiosks to the highest bidder, Smith said he wanted to make sure some of the equipment stayed in North Dakota.

A Bismarck Mandan Chamber leadership group had been working for a few years to start up a bike share there, and the timing worked out.

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Kevin Klipfel, executive director of Bismarck Parks and Recreation, said the district purchased 50 of the bikes, along with kiosks and docking stations, in December last year.

He said they’re trying to get concrete poured for the last kiosk location this week and plan to begin testing all of the equipment soon.

“We hope to get it at least kind of off the ground here in the late summer … then be ready to go great guns next year,” Klipfel said.

The remainder of the Fargo Great Rides equipment was sold to a system in Philadelphia, Smith said.

The program in Bismarck will be set up in three parks: Peace Park, near the park district main office, Pioneer Park and Sertoma Park, both along the Missouri River, and at the Bismarck State College Aquatic and Wellness Center.

Klipfel expects the bikes to be popular, as many people use the riverfront trails there.

“We're excited about it. We're impatient that we don't have it done already,” he said.

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A Great Rides bike-share station is full of bicycles on April 17, 2015, at North Dakota State University in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The bikes will remain “Bison green” for now.

Klipfel said if they end up buying more bikes down the line, they might consider changing the color and rebranding them at that time.

The Great Rides bike-share program in Fargo enjoyed great success during its run.

It tracked 416,608 rides heading into its fifth and what turned out to be its final season.

It also was honored nationally with “Most Rides Per Bike Per Day” four years in a row, averaging 3.3 rides per bike, per day during its 2018 season.

Smith said he’s still open to running a bike-share program because it fits their aim of “more butts on bikes.”

“When opportunities come up that will let us continue that mission, we’ll consider them,” he said.

Related Topics: RECREATIONFARGOBISMARCK
Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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