Nice Ride pedaling strong through summer

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Nice Ride Minnesota, the new bicycle sharing system in and around downtown Minneapolis, is on track to hit its 50,000th ride in the next few days, a little over two months since it launched on June 8. That’s being hailed as a strong milestone for the nonprofit outfit backed by businesses and government, even though monthly and yearly subscriptions are lagging far behind the first-year goal of 14,500.

So far, just short of 1,000 people have paid in advance for unlimited rides on the sturdy green Nice Ride bikes, and they have accounted for about two-thirds of the trips. Another 16,500 folks have paid a one-day fee of $5 to try the program, a first in the United States that is modeled on huge ongoing successes in major cities around the globe.

Mitch Vars of Nice Ride said the project has been challenged by hot, sticky weather that drives down ridership and by getting across to potential subscribers that a $60 annual fee ($50 for students) will put you on two wheels until 12 months later, not just until the end of the season in November (spring restart-up should come by mid-April). On the plus side, downtown employers including Target, U.S. Bank and the City of Minneapolis have boosted membership with $25 subscription subsidies for their workers.

Nice Ride also is counting on a surge in business when the University of Minnesota’s fall quarter begins next month and even bigger growth in 2011 to reflect the second year’s results in Montreal, North America’s bike-sharing pioneer. Meanwhile, Vars said, “we’re paying the bills. Most of our costs are for equipment that already is paid for.”

Nice Ride has 14 employees, many of them engaged in constant “rebalancing” of bicycles at 65 locking kiosks around the city to make sure riders can get bikes when they need them and have places to return them at their destinations.

You can sign up for Nice Ride at Niceridemn.org. Or you can try out a green bike at the NightOwl Classic, a community Mississippi River ride on parkways closed to autos, which departs from St. Anthony Main at 7 p.m. Saturday.  For more information, visit Nightowlclassic.com