The People Behind the Wheel at Red Bike

Tandem bikes notwithstanding, a bicycle in and of itself is a solidary mode of transportation—you, a couple of wheels, pedal power, a chain and steering. But use a Red Bike, and your velocipede all of a sudden has a whole peloton of bike mechanics, managers and aficionados riding along.

Meet the team that keeps Cincy Red Bike rolling along throughout the streets of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Launching in 2014 with 29 stations and 260 bikes, Red Bike now has 56 stations and 442 bikes making their way around town. This spring Red Bike hit 250,000 rides in less than a thousand days of operation.

All those wheels don’t keep turning without some help, from logistics to maintenance, and that’s where the Red Bike team comes in.

Jason Barron has been the executive director since day one; Ben Westfall is a field technician; Joe Koehl is a senior technician and long-time cyclist; Randy Evans handles customer service and internal ops; Doug McClintoch is ops manager and is also president of CORA, Cincinnati Off Road Alliance, the local international mountain biking chapter; Taylor Sayles is an assistant technician and Elese Daniels is education and outreach manager.

Barron admits he wasn’t a biker until he became involved in Red Bike after his role ended in Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory’s office. “At the end of that tenure I was looking for something to do,” he said. “The first person I talked with recommended I take a look at the new bike share program they were about to start.

“New York City had started its bike share program three or four months earlier—bike sharing is really new in America. Once I took a look at it, I saw it was a real piece of community building and a piece of public infrastructure that was going to help shape what the downtown and surrounding communities were going to look like. I was excited to start something from scratch and build a team.”

His team comprises professionals from disparate backgrounds with one focus: To get you on a Red Bike, and to keep you, and the bikes, moving. McClintoch, for example, comes from motorsports. “Most recently I was managing a 10-person high performance automotive and race shop in Alabama,” he said. “I’d lived here for years and moved away for four years. That pace of life was just not for me anymore, and I wanted to come home.

“We know where everybody’s strengths are and how to be able to rely on each other,” he continued. “That makes us really nimble. We’ve operated small for a very long time and we’re growing now to some degree, but it’s because everybody is so versatile and we have such a deep bench.”

Westfall lives just off the Loveland Bike Trail, but wasn’t a cyclist before this job. “I was in the valet industry for about 10 years at downtown hotels and I was looking for something different to do. Someone told me about this opportunity and I ended up coming here and loving it.”

Koehl is just the opposite—he’s been riding bikes since college. “I worked in a bike shop and built bike frames. I was looking for part-time work and this was available. I’ve really kind of fallen in love with the whole community engagement aspect about it.”

And it’s the idea of bringing the community together that Koehl, and the others, think is most rewarding. “The fact that Red Bike has blown up and done as well as it has, it shows this city is ready for something. It’s done so well that I feel like hey, I can be a part of something that’s making a difference in the way people get around and the way the city is functioning.”

Evans, who comes from a corporate IT background, feels the same way about being part of the community. “I came into this job part-time as a system tech. It was something that got me out in the city working with my hands, and interacting with people who are always happy to be riding bikes. Getting to have more of a direct impact in a local way, it’s been very refreshing and it’s been exactly what I needed.”

For Sayles, biking is a whole new world. “If there was an award for least likely to ride into work, I would win that,” Sayles admits. “I’m amazed by how much the program has grown since I’ve been here. (Taylor has been an assistant tech for more than two years) The most I had been downtown was to a Reds game, but I’ve started to see how the city is changing. I never thought the community would embrace us as much as they already have.”

And that is Elese Daniels’ job, educating the public and, in her own words, “getting butts on bikes.” She knew Jason through their time at City Hall and is no stranger to two-wheel transportation, working on a college bike project in Africa and also serving on the board for Queen City Bikes. “Coming into this job, those contacts are incredible to have,” she said. “I think my position is to make Red Bike more accessible to whomever wants to ride it, whether that’s recreationally, as transportation, going to work or running errands.”,

Red Bike’s app-based system is set up for the occasional user (day pass) or the everyday rider (annual pass). The only requirement, other than bringing the bike back to a docking station, is checking in every 60 minutes. Red Bike staffers monitor docking stations and if one station is low on bikes, more bikes are trucked over and added. It’s a simple system designed to encourage riders to try it, and come back.

“We have a really strong riding community,” said McClintoch, “and I think this has been a rallying point for them, like, ‘Oh cool, we have Red Bike.’ A lot don’t use it, but it’s a biking thing to have.”

This ‘biking thing’ is changing the way people get around, not just in our area but throughout the country and the world. Across the globe, Google Maps shows 1,374 bike share programs, from A Coruña, Spain, to Zoucheng, China.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) reports that more than 88 million trips have been made on a bike share bike in the U.S. since 2010. In 2016 alone, riders took more than 28 million trips, on par with the annual ridership of the entire Amtrak system, and higher than the number of people visiting Walt Disney World each year.

The number of bike share systems (with at least 10 stations and 100 bikes) has increased from four systems in 2010 to 55 systems in 2016, according to NACTO, which adds that 80% of the systems that have been in operation for more than a year have expanded, as Red Bike did, since they launched. That’s not a surprise to Joe Koehl.

“When I got out of college and got my bike I realized: I don't need to pay for parking, I don't need to pay for gas or car maintenance and it keeps me fit. Why isn't everybody in the world on these things?

“I think the city was so ready for something other than cars and buses that they just grabbed ahold of it (Red Bike) and they love it. And not only can I say, ‘You should do it for these reasons,’ but now there is the economic support. I think it's shown that people in this city are ready to live in a city where you don’t need a car.”

Want to know more about how Cincy Red Bike works? Visit www.cincyredbike.org for info and download the BCycle app which will take you to Cincy Red Bike’s maps and information.

Alex ReillyPROFILES