2012-10-30

Co.Exist

Meet The Company That Made Facebook And Apple Bike Friendly

How do you get your company on the list of most bicycle-friendly businesses? Talk to Bikes Make Life Better, which will help you change your policies and practices to make your office a place people want to bike to.

Half a decade ago, if you said you worked for an "organizational bicycle consultancy," you would have been laughed out of the room. But then, as a wave of environmental-friendliness washed over Silicon Valley, startups and established tech companies started to think about implementing on-campus bikeshare programs and bike commuting initiatives. Two years ago, Bikes Make Life Better swooped in to help them--and anyone else itching to start a bike program. Now three of the bicycle consultancy’s clients (Apple, Facebook, Williams-Sonoma) have received Bicycle Friendly Business awards from the League of American Bicyclists. Guess that consulting really paid off.

What exactly does a bicycle consultancy do? In essence, says Bikes Make Life Better Co-Founder Amy Harcourt, "we plan, design, and implement and support any kind of program related to bikes in an organizational setting." If a company is in need of bikes, Harcourt and her team help them figure out the best kind to get, how to outfit them, and how to brand them. For Mozilla, Bikes Make Life Better did a fleet of bright orange Firefox-themed bikes decked out with flames. They also work on transportation management, corporate bike centers, events (like group rides), bike workshops, and biking challenges, among other things.

A Mozilla bike.

"We bring all the programmatic stuff. You can have a bikeshare program but unless you’ve figured out how to programmatically support it, it doesn’t do well," explains Harcourt.

Take Facebook. When the company was at its former Palo Alto headquarters, it had a core group of dedicated bike commuters, but lacked a comprehensive program. So when Facebook started renovating its new headquarters at Menlo Park, Bikes Make Life Better helped with everything from ensuring that each building had a sufficient number of showers (and lockers near the showers) to making sure that there was enough bike parking. Now every building has interior wall-mounted bike racks.

An on-campus bikesharing program at Facebook features a fleet of visually consistent, well-maintained bikes. And a new cycling hub will support bike commuters with a staffed repair station, a DIY repair center, classes, and events. "By having this fleet to get around campus, so many people are getting on bikes. We know there are people who pick up a bike and ride it down to the courtyard to get lunch who probably haven’t been on a bike in years, but this is just super easy and friendly and simple," says Harcourt. "Over time, the more that employees use bikeshare to get around, the more they feel comfortable and think about getting a bike."

While Facebook has a sprawling Silicon Valley campus, Williams-Sonoma has its headquarters in bike-friendly San Francisco, with historic buildings all located about two miles away from one another. It’s too far a distance to walk back and forth all day, but it doesn’t make sense to drive, either. The company does have a shuttle bus system, but the shuttle won’t necessarily be waiting outside exactly when you need it. The solution? Bikes.

The company now has a fleet of 20 bikes that can be borrowed by employees (after going through a workshop) for two to three hours at a time. The fleet launched in May, and Williams-Sonoma already has plans to do more.

"We know that what we do is not really about bicycles," says Harcourt. "It’s about impacting performance, impacting the bottom line, and having more socially responsible business practices."

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