Pedal power

Nice Ride bike rental is new to Minneapolis and allows anyone to rent a bike and return it to any of the 50 locations. The program could be coming to a city near you. (Brendan Sullivan/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

Melanie Vanlandingham couldn't help but notice the neon green bikes around Minneapolis when she visited the Twin Cities last week.

The landscape architect hadn't brought her bike from her home in Dallas, so she hopped on one of about 500 rental bikes that have popped up in Minneapolis this summer. She and her friends were able to explore parts of the city that they wouldn't have on foot.

"I think Minnesotans are noticing them, as well," she said. "When I was riding them at lunchtime today, a lot of local folks would say 'Nice Ride!'"

Less than two months after the Nice Ride rental bike program was launched, more than 17,000 bike rentals have been tallied and nearly 600 yearlong subscriptions have been purchased. They've been popular with visitors and others with a little time to kill. Bikers who use them to commute like the price tag: $60 a year, plus they don't have to worry about locking up a bike.

"In terms of the bikes being used, it certainly met our expectations or exceeded them," said Bill Dossett, Nice Ride Minnesota's executive director.

The bikes are available at 62 kiosks, mostly in downtown Minneapolis, Uptown or near the University of Minnesota.

Response to the program has been so strong that Nice Ride is already looking into expanding into nearby neighborhoods, although Dossett said that there won't be any major expansion until next spring.

"From Day One we have always wanted to expand," he said.

"Our approach is to start with a core area with a high density of kiosks. The way we want to grow is by doing the exact same thing."

Nice Ride, a nonprofit entity, is a branch of Bixi, short for Bike Taxi, he said. It is based on the model that Bixi set up in Montreal, and orders all of its equipment from the company.

Dossett said the manufacturer is swamped with orders from similar operations in Montreal, Washington, D.C., and Melbourne, Australia. Boston and London also are preparing to launch programs.

The effort is being financed with $1.75 million in federal funds to increase nonmotorized transportation and $1 million in tobacco settlement funds through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

In Minneapolis, the stations will be removed in mid-November to prevent bikes from being damaged by road salt.

Awesome and cheap

The cycles have been especially popular with out-of-towners, who are looking for a better way to get around downtown but don't have their bikes with them. Lars Olson of Nashville, Tenn., used to live in Minneapolis and was visiting a friend in town last weekend. His friend had his own bike, but Olson didn't bring his. Enter Nice Ride.

"I wanted to go see Target Field, so I rented a bike," Olson said.

"I think it's awesome. It's really cheap. I think it'd be really cool in Nashville if they did something like that."

Andy and Patti Peterson of Duluth, Minn., had seen similar bike rental programs while traveling in Europe. Although they brought their bikes with them to ride around Minneapolis last weekend, they decided to give Nice Ride a try.

"This is really cool," Andy Peterson said. "It makes the city really accessible."