Reaping the benefits of biking

New program gets cyclists special deals at local businesses

Local bicyclists already know the many advantages of their chosen mode of transportation: avoiding traffic jams and scrambles for parking, getting some good exercise, and doing right by the environment, to name a few. Recently, the Bicycle Benefits program has made the idea of pedaling around Portsmouth even more appealing.

Local participants in the Bicycle Benefits program can get a free espresso or madeleine at La Maison Navarre, $20 off a tune-up at Papa Wheelies Bike Shop, or 25 percent off food at the Portsmouth Brewery, among other special deals.

“It’s a general effort to break down the barriers for people not riding bikes,” said Ian Klepetar, founder of Bicycle Benefits, “and to give people more reasons to bike.”

Klepetar’s national program began in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 2006. It was a simple idea: create bike-friendly communities by encouraging local businesses to offer deals to customers who arrive on bicycles.

Since its inception, Bicycle Benefits has spread across the country, reaching businesses in major cities and smaller communities from Washington and California to Florida, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

A Bicycle Benefits sticker on a storefront in downtown Portsmouth, NH.

A Bicycle Benefits sticker on a storefront in downtown Portsmouth.

Any business can reach out over the Bicycle Benefits website and join the movement, but Klepetar also works personally with communities that show an interest in bringing the program to their cycling population. He said it makes a big difference when the community has already taken the first steps toward supporting cyclists.

“I like to work in areas where the community in general is making a stand to make it a better place for biking,” said Klepetar.

In Portsmouth, that stand was being made by SABR (Seacoast Area Bike Riders). The SABR board had been taking steps with its own initiatives when Klepetar approached them and invited them to bring Bicycle Benefits to the area.

While the program officially hit Portsmouth last fall, most bicycle commuters were already putting away their wheels for the winter. This summer marks the real beginning of Bicycle Benefits here in the Seacoast.

“We’re really just starting (Bicycle Benefits) up here,” said SABR president Josh Pierce, manager of Papa Wheelie’s Bike Shop in Portsmouth. “Now that it’s summer coming up, we’re looking to expand.”

Bicycles lined up in Market Square in Portsmouth, NH.

Bicycles lined up in Market Square.

With an organization dating back to the early 1990s, SABR strives to make the Seacoast a more bicycle-friendly community. The organization often gets involved with infrastructure planning, advocating for pedestrian bridges and safe bicycle lanes, and planning events such as May’s “Bike to Work Week.”

“The idea has always been to be a bicycle advocacy group for the Seacoast, to make it a better place to ride a bike,” said Pierce.

Bicycle Benefits and SABR share a common goal, and working together seemed like a natural fit, he said.

“(Bicycle Benefits) is kind of a great idea,” said Pierce, “in that it, A) gets you a little bit of a deal if you go to a place and you ride your bike to get there and, more importantly, B) it shows businesses and people that people on bikes are customers. They’re not just something in your way when you’re trying to get from point A to point B.”

The Bicycle Benefits website shows a list of all participating businesses and the specials they offer. In addition to discounts and deals, many participating locations have Bicycle Benefits stickers on hand. Cyclists simply buy a $5 sticker, fix it to their helmets, and start enjoying the perks at about 20 participating businesses in Portsmouth and neighboring Kittery, Maine.

A Bicycle Benefits poster on a storefront in Portsmouth, NH.

A Bicycle Benefits poster on a local storefront.

The website also includes a guide to bike pumps in the area, so no flat tire can stand in the way of Portsmouth cyclists and their free cookies.

One of the participating businesses in Portsmouth is White Heron Tea and Coffee, located next door to Papa Wheelies on Islington Street. Owner Jonathan Blakeslee said he hopes that encouraging cycling will help ease traffic congestion and parking issues in Portsmouth’s West End as it becomes more densely populated. He noted that White Heron invested in a commercial bike rack shortly after signing on to the program. The business offers 15 percent off prepared drinks to participating cyclists.

One of the things I thought was great about Bicycle Benefits is that it’s a way to reward someone for biking rather than driving, Blakeslee said.

Over the summer, SABR plans to continue working toward its mission. Pierce and the rest of the board are in the midst of planning “Bike Fridays,” a system that will encourage Seacoast residents to swap their four-wheeled modes of transportation for two on the last day of the work week.

In the meantime, SABR hopes to expand the Bicycle Benefits program in Portsmouth and beyond. Pierce believes the Seacoast community is a perfect example of the kind of place where Klepetar’s idea can flourish.

“It makes sense,” Pierce said of Bicycle Benefits. “Especially in a place like Portsmouth where it’s usually faster to ride your bike than to try and find a place to park downtown, it makes sense.”