In the frigid, dry conditions that constitute a Georgia winter, cyclist sightings in Athens are more sparse than usual. While forlorn tricycles and bicycles have remained in the garage, discounts for their riders are on the up and up.
Bicycle Benefits, a national program that aims to maximize alternative transportation, first made its Classic City debut at Daily Groceries Co-op on Prince Avenue in November. Since then, the program has grown to 24 total participating businesses, including Fuzzy's Taco Shop, Avid Bookshop and Mama's Boy.
“Overall I’d like to see all the businesses in any given community support Bike Benefits and alternative transportation, and the general public to become more educated on the cost that a business is incurring for automobiles,” Bicycle Benefits founder Ian said.
Here’s how it works: Anyone with a Bicycle Benefits sticker on their bicycle helmet can enjoy discounts and deals at participating businesses. These businesses sell stickers for $5 and split the revenue 50-50 between their business and Bicycle Benefits.
“We don’t actually expect a huge benefit for us. We are purely encouraging biking—that’s it."
-- Luke Gamblin, Half-Moon Outfitters staff member
Businesses interested in joining the program have the responsibility of purchasing and selling stickers and “actively” promoting the program through signage, all provided by Bicycle Benefits.
Other than a potential influx of bike riding customers, businesses receive no benefits themselves.
“We don’t actually expect a huge benefit for us,” said Half-Moon Outfitters staff member Luke Gamblin. “We are purely encouraging biking, that’s it. And that’s what Ian is selling.”
It’s an idealistic concept bred from Klepetar’s desire to get more people on two wheels. The program came into existence about 10 years ago, growing extensively in the northeast and in outdoor-oriented cities in the northwest. Georgia has yet to catch on, with Athens being the only participating city as of now.
“I think it will absolutely catch on,” Athens resident Nathan Sheets said.
Sheets, a Bicycle Benefits member, said he typically frequents Hendershot's and Daily Groceries with his sticker-embellished helmet in hand. He admits he’s one of a few patrons who actively uses discounts offered by the program.
Growing and goal-setting
Klepetar, originally from New York, saw potential in the Athens cycling community and the local business scene during his search for an expansion of his vision. He said since December, his focus has been spreading the word in hopes of further community involvement.
“This is the first year, and the program will grow organically,” Klepetar said. “The goal would be to get better support from BikeAthens and local riding groups.”
Klepetar said his team avoids spending money on advertising and instead relies on word-of-mouth.
Percent of Athens commuters bike, according to the League of American Bicyclists
“We don’t want to program to survive in communities where it’s not welcome,” he said.
If it catches on, the foundation for a cycling-centric program to thrive is arguably in existence.
In 2016, Athens-Clarke County was ranked in the bronze category — behind its higher rankings of silver and gold — by the League of American Bicyclists “Bicycle Friendly Community” database, with rankings lasting four years. According to ACC’s “report card,” about 1.7 percent of commuters use a bike.
The city has been making noteworthy strides since then for its cycling community. In October 2018, the ACC Mayor and Commission unanimously approved the Athens in Motion Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.
The TSPLOST-funded plan paves the way for the development of further connectivity, construction and improvements all benefitting a more bike-friendly community. A total of 17 projects were approved with the plan, including the improvement of bike corridors and implementation of sidewalks.
In addition to support from local government, Klepetar believes targeting wallets is a convincing way to boost involvement.
“Providing a financial benefit on the spot can often be the difference between a person biking and not biking,” Klepetar said.
General Manager of Daily Groceries, Kara Brown, said the decision to participate in Bicycle Benefits stemmed from similar ideals.
“We were looking to expand our community outreach, also part of our mission is sustainability and looking to help the bike culture in Athens thrive,” Brown said. “Customers get really excited about it. I’m all for promoting biking and alternate transportation over cars. Also just anything to make us a destination for customers.”
Daily Groceries offers a 5 percent discount on all purchases, including alcohol. Brown says she’s noticed medium traffic from Bicycle Benefits members.
In contrast, employee at Zombie Coffee and Donuts, Liz Woodard, said she hasn’t had a single program participant come into the shop and take advantage of their deal: one free donut with the purchase of any drink.
Woodard and her manager, Chelsey Beck, agree sugary donuts and a traffic-heavy downtown location may not be the most enticing for cyclists, resulting in low participation.
Optimism through opposition
For businesses that may not feel connected to the cycling community, Klepetar tries to promote the value of slowly reducing automobile traffic.
When businesses offer free parking, it encourages driving. More driving means more traffic as well as no change or even an increase in environmentally harmful emissions. Klepetar argues providing benefits for drivers, although the status-quo, is “the opposite direction that our communities need to go.”
Companies like Bicycle Benefits face another form of opposition. Unless a business’s ideals line up with promoting alternative transportation, there’s no reason to offer discounts with nothing in return.
At this point, the program is small. Whether it grows depends on businesses involved as well as Klepetar’s persistence. However, most agree that springtime around the corner will encourage more people to dust off their bikes. Daily Groceries will be heavily promoting their involvement in the program as soon as the weather gets warmer in hopes of attracting more customers.
Klepetar is optimistic no matter the odds.
“I see Bicycle Benefits as a tool to interject in a person's life,” Klepetar said. “If they have a bicycle and they don’t use it, even if we’re able to change on a personal level a couple trips a week, then it’s been a successful campaign.”