In early April, a group calling itself the Rose City Saboteurs unleashed a hellfire of destruction and vandalism the likes of which Portland had never seen—slashing tires and spray-painting over LED displays in an apparently coordinated effort across the city to destroy the garish capitalist symbol of everything they thought was going wrong with Portland.
Their target? City-administrated public bicycle share.
In all, the series of rampages disabled 200 of the ubiquitous orange-painted, Nike-swooshed Biketown bikes installed by the city of Portland last July.
"This Biketown is now closed. Our city is not a corporate amusement park," read a sign imprinted with an emblem for the Rose City Saboteurs.
"Nike Hates the Poor," read the spray-painted graffiti at another station.
The Washington Post, roused by the RCS's stirring demands, called the protest "particularly idiotic."
But when Willamette Week posted news of the vandalism, a funny thing happened. A lot of readers were on the side of the vandals.
"Neoliberal shitbags who think Nike can save the planet with their crappy orange bikes," wrote one reader on Facebook.
"Fuck biketown, fuck san fransisco [sic], fuck tech, fuck muffin shops," wrote another.
Many readers thought Nike owned the bikes and would pay to fix them (neither assumption is true), while others wrote to complain that Biketown bikes were unaffordable luxuries for the rich (also not true) and that no real cyclists (what are those?) would use them. It was an argument that seemed strange coming from anarchist types: People who rented rather than bought were somehow inferior.
I had been similarly skeptical, and had said to others that the daily rental was far too expensive to make sense for anyone but tourists. It never occurred to me that anyone would use the bikes for a daily commute.
Well you know what? I was wrong, and so were you. Biketown (pronounced BI-kee-town) is great.
Counterpoint: BikeTown Is Killing Portland Bike Shops
The strange, incoherent rage that readers seemed to feel against these orange bikes—the holy-roller belief that "real" cyclists would not use share bikes—prompted me to do some research.
As a result, angry Biketown haters accidentally convinced me to sign up for a membership.
Why? Because I'm a terrible bike owner. When my ride got a flat, I parked it for almost a year rather than fix it. I've left bikes overnight, only to discover the predictable: a missing wheel, a missing bicycle.
Biketown is, as it turns out, not just among the lowest-cost bike shares in the country, but the lowest-cost mass transit option in Portland—a piddling $12 a month, which drops to $3 a month for low-income users.
So far, it's been the two-wheeled version of Agent Smith from The Matrix—bikes all over the city, rarely more than four blocks away, each one ready to "activate" as my own.
When a co-worker's bike got a flat after he ran over a staple last week, getting home with a broken bicycle became a grueling odyssey.
It was raining, and dark—he kept staring at the useless bike, finally deciding to try Car2Go, which had an uncharged battery. He tried Lyft, and Uber—neither of which offered bike-rack options. Then he walked 20 minutes to another Car2Go, which had a broken bike rack.
I felt the strange pity of the superior person: I literally had hundreds of bicycles, all of them mine for a moment. If I get a flat, I just lock up the crappy bike and take a different one. A team of city elves fixes the bike.
It is an exhilarating freedom, knowing that I never have to pay $11 for a cab ride.
Thank you, Nike, for the bikeys.
They tell me you also make tennis shoes? I've never actually worn them. How are they?