Cook County Forest Preserves Seeking Vendors to Offer Bike Rental Services

Region 5_Salt Creek_26th Street Woods East
Cycling in a Cook County forest preserve. Rentals for trail riding would encourage more people to ride, which could help build support for on-street bike improvements. Photo: FPDCC

Automated bike-share and bike rental is sweeping the nation, from New York City to Seattle to Chicago to… the Cook County forest preserves?

Divvy-style automated stations are one possible outcome of a recent request for proposals issued by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. They’re looking for one or more concessionaires to operate rental services in local natural areas. “We envision opportunities where people would not have to bring their own bikes, but would have places across the county where they could rent a bike and get right on the trail,” said Daniel Betts, director of permits, concessions, and volunteer resources.

Of course, Cook County municipalities should be developing safe, family-friendly bikeways that allow residents to pedal comfortably from their homes to their local nature area. However, the opportunity to rent a bike at a forest preserve and ride on car-free trails could serve as a gateway to cycling for many people who don’t currently ride at all. That would help build support for creating low-stress, on-street bike routes as well.

The Forest Preserve, which maintains over 300 miles of paved and crushed limestone trails, turns 100 on November 30. The bike rental idea ties in with its Next Century Conservation Plan, a blueprint for what the upcoming 100 years should look like, Betts said. “This strategy fits in with our goal of getting more people to visit the preserves,” he said. The idea also came up during the recent public input process for the FPDCC’s recreational master plan. “People asked why we don’t already offer rentals.”

The RFP identifies seven primary sites for rental services: Busse Woods Trail, I & M Canal Centennial Bike Trail, Dan Ryan Woods, Bunker Hill Forest Preserve, Poplar Creek Trail, and Schiller Woods. The forest preserve district will work with successful bidders to identify 16 other pilot locations across the county, Betts said.

This is actually the second time an RFP for bike rentals has been issued. The first RFP, released in June, focused on automated rental stations, but there was only one response. That company, which Betts declined to name, went out of business during the negotiation process.

As a result, the Forest Preserve district decided to widen the parameters of the RFP to allow for staffed rental operations as well as automated ones. The service could be run by one large contractor, or several smaller businesses. “That way, it doesn’t exclude John’s Neighborhood Bike Shop, if they decide they’re interested in expanding their business to include rentals on our property,” Betts said.

The Forest Preseve has reached out to over 30 individuals and organizations so far, including heavy-hitters like Divvy and Bike Chicago, the city’s largest traditional bike rental company. They plan to contact another 30 in the near future.

The Forest Preserve won’t spend any of its own money to set up the rentals, but will simply provide free space for the rental operations. The RFP requires the vendors to provide the bikes, gear, and know-how. A profit-sharing deal would be negotiated — typically the Forest Preserve gets up to 30 percent of profits from on-site concessions such as food sales or boat rentals. “We don’t see this as a huge revenue generator,” Betts said. “The biggest piece is the customer service aspect: the opportunity to provide bikes for everyone from little guys to seniors.”

However, the vendors won’t necessarily provide kids’ bikes. The RFP allows plenty of latitude for the types of cycles that will be offered. Everything from one-size-fits-all, Divvy-style city bikes to hybrids to mountain bikes to tandems is fair game, according to David Panitch, an administrative assistant who’s helping with the bid process.

Proposals are due by December 10 at 10 a.m. Potential bidders can go here to create an account and download the RFP.

  • CL

    This is a really good idea. I could see my partner and I doing this. We won’t bike on city streets because of the danger, but we would like the opportunity to ride bikes somewhere like this.

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