Free bikes arrive for Republican convention

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They'll be part of a sort of bike library, to open its doors when the spotlight turns to the race for the White House in Colorado and Minnesota.

The Twin Cities will have seven bike stations for the four-day run of the Republican National Convention starting Sept. 1.

The idea started in Louisville, Ky. with the Humana health insurance company, which has about 8,500 employees. About one-third of them belong to a company-sponsored bike sharing program.

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"People can get a bike for whatever they want to," said spokesman Nate Kvamme, who is in St. Paul helping set up the program. "They use them for lunch, to and from meetings. We actually see our bikes on the front of buses, so we know people are taking them home and using them for commuting."

"The idea is to engage people with their health and with the environment."

Humana approached the national bike advocacy group Bikes Belong to help expand the program during the conventions. A half dozen bike and accessory manufacturers are also chipping in products and assistance.

"Trek, Specialized, Schwinn, Fuji, Raleigh and Giant are offering the bikes, and there's about a half million dollars worth of product being donated to this project," said Gary Sjoquist, with Bikes Belong.

He said the bike makers specifically offered multi-speed hybrid bikes that can be comfortably ridden in street clothes.

"The original goal was to have delegates or elected officials ride the bikes to the convention centers," said Sjoquist. "But with the security restrictions, there is esentially a 'no car, no bike' zone around the Xcel Energy Center. So we put the bikes down here on Shepard Road. People can still come down and get the bikes, and use them to get as close as they can to see what's going on."

The program is actually Internet-based. Riders can sign up online for a bike. It requires them to register with a credit card. Rental is free, but the borrowers are responsible for replacing the bikes if they're lost, stolen or damaged. The rental includes a lock and a helmet.

Kiosks staffed by Humana personnel will be located at the Upper Landing, just below the bluff in downtown St. Paul, as well as Mounds Park and Crosby Farm in St. Paul.

In Minneapolis, rental stations will be at the Stone Arch Bridge, the Hennepin County Government Center, the Minneapolis Convention Center and in Loring Park.

Organizers hope the effort will long outlast this year's race for the White House. They're planning to install credit card kiosks in both convention cities that will automate the bike rental after the political campaigns have moved on.

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