Oh, the places you can go on a LimeBike
By: Billy Ingram
You’ve seen ‘em on college campuses and practically every corner downtown. The first ride is free, and then it’s just a dollar to hop on. LimeBikes appeared almost out of nowhere, and now they are ubiquitous around the Greensboro area.
The California founders of LimeBike, Toby Sun and Brad Bao, possess a lifelong passion for biking. Observing the international rise of bike-share in Asia, they set wheels a’spinning to come up with a smarter bike-share concept tailored to our catch-as-catch-can lifestyle. Succeeding where others failed, they devised a system wherein the bicycles don’t need to be picked up and dropped off at a central docking station. Cruise to your destination, lower a kickstand, done.
“Not only was LimeBike the first dockless bike-share company, Greensboro was the first city in America to get it,” said Matt Phillips, who oversees the operation locally. “It was partially because of contact made by University of North Carolina Greensboro; they had been looking into a bike-share program. Also because Greensboro ticked a lot of the boxes — it’s a burgeoning metro area, it doesn’t have the 120 miles of Greenway that Raleigh has, but we’re getting there. It’s the perfect location to figure it all out; we got to learn a lot from the process over the first months.”
What’s that oft-repeated canard about New York City? If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere? Practically speaking, that’s almost never true. Greensboro being chosen for LimeBike’s rollout shouldn’t be of surprise to anyone. When cable television was first introduced in the late-1960s, Greensboro was one of a handful of markets chosen to test the radical concept of pay T.V. Thinking being, if the plan flourishes in a bedroom community like this, it can be adopted anywhere.
Founded in January of 2017, receiving the first round of funding only a few months later, LimeBike put its mettle to the pedals on UNCG’s campus this past June. Despite launching during summer break ridership ticked steadily upward, increasing greatly once fall semester got underway.
In August, the franchise went citywide. Phillips notes, “Ever since it’s been wonderful. It’s been adopted amazingly.” LimeBike’s gamble on a spin of the wheel paid off, so they expanded their tire print in the state, partnering with North Carolina State University for the benefit their students, then putting the program in motion in both Durham and Charlotte. Today, spokes are spinning in over 32 markets and counting.
“Our bikes are designed by us in-house in California,” Phillips said. “The technology and everything else is pretty much proprietary.” Not allowed to name names, “They are manufactured by the same factories that make the biggest, highest quality name brands you can think of.” The aluminum frames are lightweight, designed to be durable, “Of course, we do have an operational team that works daily to ensure proper placement and maintenance, to make sure they’re well taken care of.”
File this under the category ‘Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ — LimeBikes have been retrieved from woods, creek beds, a second story dormitory ledge, high up in a tree, they’ve even been set afire. Phillips is not terribly concerned over the occasional nutters under the impression they’re creating street art, ”We hope people will treat them like they are theirs,” Phillips said. “They kinda belong to the community, so we want people to take ownership in them, take pride in them, and treat them as if it were their own bike because in a way they are. We want everybody to benefit as well.”
From their nerve center in Andy Zimmerman’s latest restoration project, Studio 503 on East Washington, Phillip’s squad will be devoting extra effort maintaining their cycles this winter to adapt for inclement weather, a commitment to constant innovation so that everything stays in tip-top shape.
Counterintuitive as it seems, one bike shop owner informed me that the proliferation of LimeBikes has actually increased sales for him. Phillips knows first hand how true this is, “I’ve been in the bike industry for eight years here, so I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m pretty close with some of the owners here in town; I pretty much know all of them.”
He made the rounds early on, making sure bicycle vendors were in the loop from the start because Phillips believes, “It’s going to be great for the entire bike industry locally. [Users are] going to go out and buy a helmet, buy nutrition, and like it so much they’ll go out and get their own bike. I’ve seen exactly that. It’s been very beneficial for local businesses.”
Billy Ingram is the author of 5 books including Hamburger², (mostly) about Greensboro, He is working on a memoir of his time as one of the ‘New York Yankees of Motion Picture Advertising.’