Bikes in hiding: Where have all the yellow ones gone?

When the yellow bikes made their city debut back in March, pessimism was rife, with many skeptics predicting the rapid demise of the program through theft and vandalism.
Three months later, the bikes are indeed hard to spot, and even city planning guru Satyendra Huja says he has “seen people using them, but not as much as I would like.” Huja is also “disappointed that so many were stolen and destroyed.”
But the founder of the Community Yellow Bikes of the Piedmont, Stephen Bach, claims the program is going strong.
“It’s definitely what we expected,” Bach explains.
Though he acknowledges that some of the bikes have been vandalized, he doesn’t see it as an insurmountable problem, and says many more people have made good use of the bikes.
“I’m happy that we’ve gotten as much interest as we’ve had,” he insists. As for the damage that has occurred, Bach chalks it up to juvenile misbehavior.
And as for theft, Bach can’t provide a specific number of bikes that may have been taken, but he passionately limns this point: stealing a yellow bike is not really possible.
“They don’t belong to anybody,” says Bach. “They belong to everybody, so it’s not possible to steal them.
“We want to promote bike use,” he explains, “so even people who take one and keep it are accomplishing that goal.” Which is not to say he wants people to take the bikes home and store them in their garages. “It’s not the intent of the program,” he concedes, “but if they use them, I’m happy.”
But if, as Bach claims, theft and vandalism aren’t such a big problem, where are all those elusive bikes?
“They’ve scattered,” he says. “Because they are dispersed, nobody sees very many, but they are out there.” Bach says that about half of the original fleet of approximately 80 bikes are in the program’s new shop waiting for repair.
That new shop– “a huge warehouse space” donated by DMB manager Coran Capshaw– is a big step up for the yellow bikes program, which started out in Bach’s back yard before moving several weeks ago. The new space is in the back of a former auto dealership building now owned by Capshaw at the corner of Ninth and West Main Streets.
Bach says he hopes to repair and release about 100 bikes– including those currently in for repair– by September, and then again every six months, but he says getting the work done is a tricky proposition.
“The big problem is lack of volunteers,” he explains. “A really small number of people have been repairing the bikes. We need people who are committed to the program, who’ll show up regularly,” he says.
For those who aren’t any good with a wrench, Bach points out that bikes are tax deductible donations– so if you’ve got a two-wheeler gathering dust, you might consider letting it go yellow.
In the meantime, Bach and his small but loyal band of bike lovers work in the shop every Saturday from 11am to 3pm, and he says he won’t give up the program any time soon.
 “People like it,” he says. “They’re thrilled by it, inspired by it."

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