While Europeans have been biking across cities to work or to run errands for years, Americans are just recently ditching four wheels for two. Bike sharing programs are popping up across the nation, and in major cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and Denver, you can hop on a bike whenever you please without fear of theft when you’re not using it. Similar in fashion to car sharing programs, this new rental phenomenon has various benefits for all parties. Not familiar with this burgeoning trend? We’ll break it down for you.

What’s it All About?

Biking in urban areas has become increasingly popular among people of all ages, but some don’t want to deal with the upkeep or the possibility of a getting their bike stolen. Bike sharing programs offer the best of both worlds. Large fleets of bicycles are made readily available at designated rental stations for temporary usage. Currently, there are 26 programs throughout the country and that number is expected to double within the next two years. Individuals who are on the fence about owning a bike can also test out the waters with bike sharing programs before taking the plunge.

How it Works

Every bike sharing program may be a little different, but Denver’s B-cycle, which has 500 bikes and 50 stations, is designed for short trips lasting less than 30 minutes. Members pay a fee to have access to bikes at their leisure, and additional costs for rides lasting longer than a half hour. Memberships are based on yearly, weekly or monthly access. Each bike comes with an on-board computer that allows members to track their mileage, calories burned and carbon emissions avoided.

Benefits of Bike Sharing Programs

Cyclists across metropolitan areas opt for biking to work because it is less expensive than driving or taking public transportation, can sometimes be faster than alternative options, is great for the environment, and is a sneaky way to get in some exercise! Bike sharing programs offer all of these benefits and then some. It helps generate revenue for municipalities and private companies, provides jobs, eases traffic and public transportation congestion, and pushes city officials to improve bike infrastructure. For example, bike sharing programs will be introduced to Chicagoans this summer, and the city’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to build a 645-mile network of designated bike lanes by 2020, an effort that is already underway.

What do you think of this new trend?