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Pedalers Welcome: Surf City to Get Free Bikes for Public : Activism: Bolsa Chica Alliance & Friends will make bright-yellow refurbished two-wheelers available by mid-August.


HUNTINGTON BEACH — To promote this beach city as a wholesome, hospitable place where residents and visitors can enjoy the outdoors, a local environmental group plans to make hundreds of bright-yellow bicycles available across town for free.

"We'll all be on an honor system," said Lynn Beach, who is helping Bolsa Chica Alliance & Friends to organize the program, dubbed Sunshine Transportation. "Use the bike to get where you need to go, then leave it at a major street so someone else can use it."

The bikes will be theft-proof, organizers say, because everyone--and no one--will own them. The program, modeled after one that began last year in Portland, Ore., has its roots in Amsterdam in the 1960s, when sharing property was a popular countercultural concept.

In Huntington Beach, organizers of the bike program have agreements with a number of local businesses. Old bikes donated to the project will be repaired free by local shops, for example, and repainted for free by paint companies.

The first bikes are to be on the streets by mid-August, Beach said.

Beach said about 10 bikes have already been collected and are being repaired. After they are in working condition, she said, a local company will paint them--right down to the spokes--a brilliant yellow. Only the seats, grips and reflectors will keep their original hue.

Each refurbished bike will have a placard on the seat reading, "This Sunshine Transportation supplied by the Bolsa Chica Alliance & Friends. Ride at your own risk. Honor system observed."

Riders will be on their own, Beach said, to comply with California's helmet law.

Organizers of the Portland project said they started with 10 bikes last September and now have more than 300. The program is very popular, said Tom O'Keefe, director of the Oregon group that kicked off the campaign.

Since the project began, O'Keefe said, there has been a noticeable shift in city residents' attitude.

Even though the bikes are free, he said, "I have people calling me and asking for permission to keep the bikes for a week while they job hunt."

Of course, the bikes are occasionally stolen, O'Keefe admitted.

"We've heard reports of our bikes being spotted about 300 miles away," he said, but "that's not a concern of ours one bit. A majority of these bikes were going to be made into scrap iron anyway.

"We have had homeless people claim temporary ownership," O'Keefe said, "but if it makes their hard lives easier, it doesn't concern us."

Local bike rental and sale shops aren't concerned, either, that the freebies will hurt their business.

Al Macias, owner of Bicycles Pacific in Huntington Beach, had only praise for the program. "Most of the people probably using the bikes aren't the same ones who are going to spend $200 for a good bike anyway," he said.

O'Keefe said that has been the case in Portland. "These are not upscale bikes," he said. "We reduce the 10-speeds to one speed. It makes them lower maintenance."

O'Keefe said his group has responded to requests from more than 125 cities for information on the program, some as far away as Japan and Africa.

One of those was Huntington Beach.

Beach, a board member of the Bolsa Chica Alliance & Friends, said her group was fascinated by the idea. "We want to make Huntington Beach known as a trustworthy, physically fit and honest community," she said.

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