Brooks: It was a nice ride while it lasted for Twin Cities ridesharing bikes
One lovely summer day, Minnesotans hopped on their bright green rideshare bikes and set out to tour every Nice Ride station in the Twin Cities.
Just because it sounded like fun. Just because Nice Ride was there.
"It was just a great day," said Michael McKinney, who discovered the longest distance between two points that day in 2012. The dozen miles between the downtowns stretched into an all-day joyride by the time he and the other cyclists zig-zagged among all the stations in the fledgling rideshare system.
"I really appreciate having been a part of it," he said. "It was really fun, and it was a really unique way to see parts of the city."
The sturdy Nice Ride bikes were built for comfort, not speed, so it was a leisurely tour. From shady Summit Avenue in St. Paul, up and down the rolling banks of the Mississippi River, past the Mary Tyler Moore statue on Nicollet in Minneapolis, looping around and through all the neighborhoods, parks and side streets you never see until you look for them.
There were 145 Nice Ride stations in 2012. There were more the year after that, and the year after that. By last year, more than 400 stations popped up after the thaw, like the surest sign of spring.
But last year was the last year.
Unless new sponsors and funding can be found to replace what Nice Ride lost when Blue Cross withdrew its longstanding support, the rideshare that started it all has shared its last ride in the Twin Cities.
Local governments and nonprofits and for-profits are scrambling for something, anything, to take its place this year. Thousands of people relied on Nice Ride bikes, ebikes and scooters for their commute, for recreation, and — at least once — to get their entire wedding party to the chapel on time.
The first time LaTrisha Vetaw saw her mother on a bicycle, it was Nice Ride.
"The first time she got on a bike in 50 years was a Nice Ride bike," said Vetaw, now a Minneapolis City Council member.
She had worked with the nonprofit to create the Orange Bike program, which offered free transportation to low-income residents and ensured that neighborhoods like Frogtown and north Minneapolis weren't priced out of the bikeshare network. Which gave neighbors like her mother a chance to ride.
Vetaw organized group rides around north Minneapolis, showing her neighbors the city's trail network, pointing them toward the bike lanes that could turn a 30-minute bus ride into a 10-minute bike commute.
The city looks different on a bike, she said. Riders would suddenly notice the pretty purple house down the block; or the pocket park one neighborhood over; or the drivers staring at their phones instead of the road.
It might be the end of Nice Ride, but, she said, "it's not the end of the ride for Minneapolis."
Since the news broke, people have been sharing their nicest Nice Ride memories with its founder, Bill Dossett.
The time Nice Ride froze a bike in a giant block of ice and left it to thaw in the middle of downtown Minneapolis as a promise that spring, and bikeshare season, was on the way.
The Nice Cream ice cream bike. The eternal hunt for that one purple Nice Ride bike, emblazoned with Purple Rain.
The Nice Ride slow races at Open Streets, where riders inched down the course, fighting to stay upright, hoping to win by crossing the finish line dead last.
The absolute earworm that was Nice Ride the Musical. ("Nice Ride! It's a Nice Ride! When you're on a Nice Ride, riding with your best friends!")
What Dossett will remember are the people who kept Nice Ride rolling for 13 years. The people who helped fund it, the people who turned a pilot program into a community institution.
And most of all, everyone who came along for the ride.
"People really embraced it. The people of the Twin Cities embraced Nice Ride in ways I never anticipated," he said. "We saw it as a transportation system, that's what we were trying to become."
Minnesotans, he said, "connected with the bikes and the plan. We felt really fortunate about that."