In Portland, Ore., the second credit union to do so announced this week it was offering a new financial product: a bike loan. I think it's the idea of the decade. (In fact, it was my idea, so it's hardly a surprise that I love it.) Not everyone agrees with me.
As a self-described "family biking evangelist," it's my hope to convince more, more and MORE! people to get behind the handlebars of a bike, instead of choosing a minivan or other expensive, polluting transport mechanism.
The biggest objection most people have to my brilliant vision of the future of family transport is cost. Most bikes capable of efficiently and comfortably transporting more than one human, and their groceries and crunchy snacks and extra changes of clothes, are pretty spendy. Mine cost about $1,500, including labor and a bell and a few kiddos' helmets. Most people, I'm told, don't have $500, or $1,000, or $2,000 to buy the family bike of their dreams.
A few years ago, in a meeting of the minds between a representative from the local bike activism group, the Bicycle Transportation Authority, and some local mama bloggers (me and my friend, Olivia Rebanal), we brainstormed a bunch of ideas on working together. My concept: a bike loan program. If working poor could buy cars, why not bicycles? I rationalized. Because they could borrow money, often with nothing down, to buy the car; whereas bikes required cash on the barrel head (or lots of credit, equally out of range for low-income families).
My idea was passed along, and I was thrilled to meet with a representative from Unitus Community Credit Union several months later. The bike loan program had been approved. In honor of their responsiveness, I closed my Bank of America account and joined Unitus instead. (Now they have my vast riches. I mean, my occasional freelance check. Aren't they lucky?) I was thrilled this week to read that another credit union, Northwest Resource Federal Credit Union, was offering a similar program, with 12-month terms for up to $2,500.
I went to BikePortland.org to read the universal raves of happiness from bikers. Instead, I found a couple of commentators decrying the financial foolishness of borrowing money to buy a bike. Really? I thought. This is supposed to be the window of opportunity for low-income families to choose family biking instead of family gas-guzzling! Only the hardest-core debt-avoiders would insist that you should never, ever go into debt to buy a car; why the double standard for bikes? Just because the universe of financial institutions considers cars an asset, bikes a consumer good, doesn't change the reality that bikes can get you to work (or to the grocery store, or school) and should be equally valued. What do you think?
(full disclosure: I didn't use this loan program; I used my Federal Economic Stimulus check to buy my bike instead.)
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