Explore Bike Share hits the streets and promises equitable and affordable transportation for Memphis

On Wednesday morning, May 23, cyclists lined up outside an Uptown warehouse on Keel Avenue while they waited for the inaugural group ride hosted by the newly launched Explore Bike Share.

Explore Bike Share partners, cycling enthusiasts and residents eager to try a new form of transportation served as personal couriers, delivering Memphis' fleet of rentable bikes from the Uptown home base to 60 stations across the city. 

Local developers donated the warehouse space to Explore Bike Share to house equipment. Sara Studdard, the community engagement and marketing director for Explore Bike Share, said "We also found the Uptown neighborhood to be located near our service area and easily accessible to Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

Particpants in the ride leave the warehouse for the one mile journey to Court Square. (Brandon Dahlberg)

We also appreciate Uptown's residents' long-term vision for their neighborhood and participated in some of the recent CRA [Community Redevelopment Agency] planning initiatives."

Despite the heat, the excitement was palpable. About 250 Memphians mingled with each other over breakfast and coffee before the ride began.

While funding and station locations for the city’s first bike share program were finalized a couple months ago, the initiative has been in the works for years.

An initial feasibility study was conducted three years ago by BCycle, a company that develops bike share systems and is owned by cycling manufacturer Trek.

Memphis’ for-rent bike system will consist of 300 bikes across 60 stations throughout the city, including Downtown, South Memphis, Orange Mound, Crosstown and Cooper-Young.

"EBS [Explore Bike Share] is built by Memphis, for Memphis. EBS began as a conversation among residents on if bike share could provide positive benefits across our neighborhoods,” Studdard said.

“Memphis residents overwhelmingly felt that bike share would provide a needed transportation and recreation option, with the caveat that the system needed to be equitable. We work directly with neighborhood organizations to ensure that bike share feels of the neighborhood and authentically meets the needs and wants of neighbors."

Cyclists set out along Keel Avenue outside the warehouse where Explore Bike Share has stored equipment. (Brandon Dahlberg)

Wednesday's launch marks Bcycle's 50th bike share program, and its largest smart bike system, in the United States. The "smart" element of the 8-speed bikes refers to a computer system that records and displays ride data and will communicate with a smartphone app, which will allow riders to view their trip history, routes, and ride data. Bike check out is facilitated by the app, and can also be done using an Explore Bike Share RFID card or directly on the bike's touchscreen display.

The app will also allow riders to manage memberships. These range from $5 for an hour ride to $120 for an annual membership. There is also a "pay it forward" membership option, which costs $200 a year and provides an annual membership to someone who could not afford it otherwise. 

“Explore Bike Share’s mission is to provide an affordable, accessible and approachable transportation option for all Memphians and visitors,” said Trey Moore, executive director of Explore Bike Share.

“BCycle’s equipment and technology have allowed us to fulfill that mission equitably and intentionally with flexible station sites and easy-to-use bikes. Our team is excited to offer this state-of-the-art system to residents and tourists.

Dawn Vinson, who is on the Explore Bike Share advisory board, poses with her bike before riding to Crosstown Concourse. (Brandon Dahlberg)

Riders got a firsthand look at this technology as they left the warehouse on Keel and rode just over a mile to Court Square, where an event was staged with several speakers, including Doug McGowen, Explore Bike Share board chairman and the COO of the City of Memphis, and Bob Burns, the vice president of Trek and president of BCycle. McGowen emphasized that Explore Bike Share provides "convenient, affordable, and equitable transportation."

He went on to say, "Transportation is a huge priority of ours, and the additive role that Explore Bike Share plays within our network of transportation options is not to be underestimated. We are proud to offer this new tool to our citizens — one that is available, affordable and accessible."

Roshun Austin, a board member of Explore Bike Share and leader of The Works CDC in South Memphis, spoke about her initial skepticism of the need for something like a bike share in Memphis.

"Equity is at the root of our entire process. And it doesn’t stop today. We will continue to establish partnerships with community organizations such as Knowledge Quest, Advance Memphis, and others to bring this amenity to anyone who wants it — or may not realize how much they need it."

Many Memphians in attendance agreed. "It's amazing. It allows people to see new parts of the city, and I think its good we can now compete with other cities in the country and the world. And, it's helpful for people of all socio-economic backgrounds," said Lyndsey Pender, a graduate student at the University of Memphis.

Katie Rasnic, a nurse at Regional One Medical Center, was also optimistic about the bike share. "I'm real excited about getting to ride to work now."

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Read more articles by Brandon Dahlberg.

Brandon Dahlberg is a documentary photographer based in Memphis. A lifelong resident of the city, he earned his B.A. in English and M.F.A in Creative Writing from the University of Memphis. He has worked as a photographer in various capacities throughout the city, and loves telling visual stories.