Thanks to Bicycle Benefits founder Ian Klepetar and the hard work of his fellow volunteer bike discount evangelists, there are more than 400 participating businesses in Wisconsin.
I grew up in a family that shopped for groceries on Thursdays because the coupons were in Wednesday’s newspapers. We clipped coupons, used S&H Green Stamps, and watched for BOGO sales. My stay-at-home mother added to our set of dinnerware with a free dish a week by shopping at the neighborhood Kroeger store. We lived a very comfortable life on my auto mechanic father’s salary, but looking for discounts was ingrained in my DNA from an early age.
Perhaps that is one reason why I have Bicycle Benefits stickers on all three of the bike helmets I use (summer, spring/fall and winter). I never want to miss out on a deal, whether I am stopping after a ride with friends or pedaling my cargo bike to the grocery store. The Bicycle Benefits sticker is like a universal coupon good on everything I need in my corner of Milwaukee, from Amaranth Bakery to Bliffert Hardware and Valentine Coffee.
Perhaps it is my fond memories of going grocery shopping with my mom as a kid, but of all the Bicycle Benefits discounts I get, I think my favorite is the $5 off any bill of $30 or more at Metcalfe’s Sentry on State Street in Wauwatosa.
No matter where you live in Wisconsin, you should look for a Bicycle Benefits sticker on the door of businesses. Thanks to the hard work of Bicycle Benefits founder Ian Klepetar and the hard work of his fellow volunteer bike discount evangelists, there are more than 400 participating businesses in Wisconsin. If there is a bicycle friendly business in your area that might be interested in participating, just talk to the owner or manager about ordering a business start-up kit online from bicyclebenefits.org/#/new_member.
I talked to Ian Klepetar to learn a little more about the program and to get the history of how Bicycle Benefits started and expanded in Wisconsin and beyond.
What’s Bicycle Benefits?
The program is a partnership between businesses and individuals. When a person has the “Bike Benefits” program helmet sticker, they show it at participating locations and are given a discount or reward for arriving by bicycle.
Like having bike parking racks outside a business, the Bicycle Benefits sticker on the door is an effective way for businesses to support their customers who arrive by bike and encourage others to try it.
What is the history and why did you start it?
Bicycle Benefits was a component of a healthy transportation initiative I started when I lived in Saratoga Springs, NY roughly 13 years ago. As in most US cities at the time, people on bikes were treated as second class citizens on the roadway there. I saw how strong the voice of the local business community was and recognized that facilitating a stronger connection to bike riders was timely. I left the organization when it seemed to hit a political and cultural ceiling in Saratoga Springs. Pedaling away, I took my ideas, energy and show on the road.
Conceptually speaking, Bicycle Benefits is a program that EVERY city needs. It’s not perfect, but it’s an important step away from “fuel point programs” at grocery stores which promote pollution and driving, car-centric drive-thus as well as businesses and municipalities that provide “free parking” but make no effort to give back to those who are not incurring, producing or utilizing those costs. The program would make no sense in a city and a culture that put people and bicycles first. For the last 11 years, I’ve been promoting and growing local campaigns around the country, putting on related events and advocating healthy transportation from coast to coast.
Is it just a Wisconsin thing?
It’s a Wisconsin thing, a Washington thing and even an Alaska thing. The program transcends city and state boundaries. If you ride to another town, across the state, or across the country, you can use it wherever participating businesses exist. It’s an EVERYONE program that has ambassadors and organizations heading it up from coast to coast. That being said, you can only use it if you are biking! The map can be accessed at www.benefitsby.bike
The first time I’d ever been to Wisconsin was when Trek had launched a “One World Two Wheels” campaign and felt that Bicycle Benefits would help encourage more riders and help the program reach national ridership goals. Trek offered to sponsor me with a new bike if I would come to Wisconsin to help start Bicycle Benefits here. Having never ridden more than a hundred miles at a time, I rode from Boston to Madison to bring the program to life roughly 11 years ago. Wisconsin now has more individual, business and community support than any other state.
How does it work?
Businesses that join provide a discount or reward to arriving bike riders who show the “Bicycle Benefits” sticker on their helmet. We ask them to view it as a component of their own businesses. They sell the program stickers, they promote and optimally tune-in their customers to biking and the program.
How can I get a sticker?
The website has a little sticker icon next to the Wisconsin locations that sell them. Most locations that honor the program sell them for $5. Individuals can purchase a five pack of stickers from the website if they cannot track down a participating business near them. Even though you may see different color stickers on people’s helmets, don’t worry. Whatever color sticker you get, the stickers NEVER expire. After a couple years, they often get worn and torn, but it is well worth another $5 to replace it.
What else does BB do?
We organize and facilitate Bike Bingo, a fun game that further incentivizes people to ride their bicycles to businesses outside their neighborhood they might not normally visit. We outfit partnering businesses with bicycle floor pumps for customer/employee use. The pumps are donated by Madison-based bicycle accessories manufacturer Planet Bike.
At all our events and with all our communications, we try to educate, inform and empower our members and businesses to get involved and make biking better in their communities. Currently, we are creating a plan to garnish state-wide support to reduce speed limits in towns across Wisconsin to 20 miles per hour. Speed is the critical factor in the severity of crashes and one of the biggest reasons that more people don’t ride bicycles for transportation. We need to slow down vehicular traffic and are asking readers to join the state-wide effort at www.safe-streets-now.org
You have ridden a bicycle in many different places. What are some lessons Wisconsin could learn from elsewhere?
Wisconsin bicycling has a lot going for it; trails specifically. However, my dream is that people feel a similar sense of safety when biking on city streets as they do on the great trails around the state. However, this is not currently the case. Advocacy efforts need to start focusing on what really matters to the 99% of people who are not riding bicycles, providing more opportunities for them and doing it without requiring millions of dollars.
- Reduce speed limits on most city streets to 20 mph. Fast and aggressively moving cars and trucks is a national and Wisconsin epidemic. Fast moving automobile traffic is a big reason why biking is perceived as being unsafe by many people who want to ride more. Speed limits of 20 mph on local streets would reduce crashes, the severity of crashes and make more people feel more comfortable riding.
- We need to bring a “people first” approach to all street design. Wisconsin DOT and our municipalities have done a great job designing and building roads for cars and trucks. By doing so, they kill more than 500 people a year in Wisconsin and around 35,000 people nationally. City-wide and state-wide declarations need to be made to communicate a people-first future in transportation. Things like more protected bike lanes and a Safe Street network of traffic calmed local side streets would make neighborhoods safer and increase property values. Bollards, planters, cement balls or posts that are used to allow people and bicycles to move through an area but restrict entry by cars and trucks are popular in neighborhoods St. Louis, Missouri.
- Mileage fees, tolls and increased parking fees need to be used to bring the colossal costs of driving back to the user. There is a widely held misconception that gas taxes and registration fees pay for motor vehicle infrastructure. Actually, about 50% of the cost of driving a car and motor vehicle infrastructure comes from the general fund and borrowing. If people had to pay the true cost of driving and parking, many more would choose bicycling, transit or walking. Creating a sustainable transportation funding system would highlight why funding infrastructure for bicycling and walking has a great return on a relatively small investment.
- Showing up matters. The individuals and groups around the country that are getting stuff done are those who are showing up, speaking out and rallying for safe streets in their communities. Tactical urbanism and Do-it-yourself projects may be one of the answers in reclaiming our streets and public areas from automobiles where local voices are not heard.
Biking is contagious, but it can seem exclusive in many places. In many places, it feels like one needs to date a bike rider, be a risk taker or grow up in a family of bike riders in order to hop on the saddle and roll. We need to break down the barriers to riding. The best way to grow biking is to connect with non-bike riders. This can be done connecting with fellow shoppers in the grocery store while using your helmet to get a discount. It can be achieved through reaching out to our real friends and social media friends and asking them to join us on a regular social ride around town.
We need to grow biking in our communities by appealing and redirecting our attention to those who are not regular bike riders, haven’t ridden in a while and do not feel comfortable riding. 2020 is the year to help unify our communities and grow biking by focusing on everything but the bicycle.
Finally, what are some of your favorite places to use your BB discount?
In Madison the Zoo offers a discount. In Salt Lake City, the library forgives late fees for people with Bicycle Benefits stickers. But my favorite location is the Upinngil Country Store, a small self-serve farm store in Gill, MA. It is open seven days a week, all year and sells everything from fresh farm eggs, dairy, produce and meats to salt, sugar, flour and even kombucha. Many breweries in Wisconsin offer “Buy one, get one” specials that make for the perfect bike date.