CINCINNATI -- This is the year to get outside and see Greater Cincinnati on two wheels.
At least that's what Red Bike, the nonprofit bike sharing program in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, hopes people who've never tried the service will think this year.
Jason Barron, executive director for Red Bike, said they're partnering with companies and organizations to do hour-long rides as a way to introduce more people to the program's benefits.
Red Bike started putting bike stations in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky in September 2014. Today they have 59 stations and 442 bikes, and they'll surpass 250,000 bike rides this month.
Although this year will focus more on growing ridership, Red Bike is still planning for the future and looking at where places bikes are needed and what makes the most sense, Barron said. Newport has a transportation alternative grant from OKI Regional Council of Governments that will buy two to three more stations there this summer or in 2018.
Barron said Red Bike has been focused on "living within our means" for the first three years. That included getting the infrastructure up and working efficiently and "being a good steward of this public trust."
He also said Red Bike was in the black, which is good news.
Barron was actually part of the organization's target audience when he was hired in 2013. "I lived and worked in Downtown Cincinnati, walked everywhere and was perpetually late because it always took longer to get (to the destination) than I thought."
He's not a cyclist, but said Red Bike wasn't created for the folks who already are active bikers. "It's a nice additive for them, but our target is people who aren't cyclists."
Jason Lauer of Bellevue likes to take a Red Bike home from work Downtown and drop it off at a station near his home.
"It's convenience and exercise, and it's a nice way to wind down after work," Lauer said.
He'll hop the bus to work and if the weather's nice, he'll hop on a Red Bike, stopping at the Purple People Bridge or in a park on the way home.
"It's a little quicker than taking the bus" as well, he said.
Lauer has a bike but hasn't used it in years, he said. Red Bike offers an easy option.
The price per use is a little high ($8 for the day), but the yearly pass ($80) is fine, said Jason Walter of Newport, who likes to ride the bike home from work. His most frequent summer trips, however, tend to be between the 6th Street station in Newport and the Reds stadium.
And that's exactly where it's busiest, said Barron.
The riverfront areas and those parks draw Cincinnati riders as well as riders in Bellevue, Newport and Covington, who gravitate toward spots along the river.
Another busy spot is Vine Street -- it's the only two-way street in Over-the-Rhine and the biggest commercial corridor, said Barron.
The bikes are 3-speed and serviced by a team of technicians from 7 in the morning to 10 at night, said Barron. The techs also move the bikes to make sure it's balanced at each station.
Techs check tire pressure regularly, but the system depends on riders to report problems as well. Riders who have agreed to receive text message get alerts about their next check-in time and a text noting the bike is checked in. "There's a Google box in the message where you can send us information," said Barron. "We lock it down remotely so no one else can use (the bike) until it's fixed."
Lauer said the service is good. "I've only had one day when (the station) was full when I got home," he said. He emailed Red Bike and locked it, and Red Bike came by his house for the key. He also reported brake problems once, and the bike was locked down by remote control.
Vic Hugo, an annual pass holder with his wife from the Licking Riverside neighborhood in Covington, said there was only one time when they couldn't find a bike at a station. "But it was only a short walk to the next station. It's a great system and no issues with the quality of the equipment."
That service is key, said Barron. "One thing we are over the moon with is the number of people reporting issues," he said. That reporting keeps the bikes in good shape for the next rider.
Each bike has all different kinds of experience hitting potholes and bumps or going off curbs with riders of all sizes and abilities, said Barron. "Every bike's done a million different things, and those things put different torque and pressure on them," he said. "Plus, they sit in the weather all year long."
Safety is imperative for riders, he said. "There's also the fun factor -- we want people to have a good time," Barron said.
Now, it's about riders. "There are people who need a little more coaxing (to try it), he said. "Once we get them on a bike, I know they'll be sold."