After more than five years of location insecurity, the Iowa City Bike Library (ICBL) is ready to settle down in its own “vast, ethereal space.”
“It is true! The Iowa City Bike Library has purchased a building at 1222 South Gilbert Court,” ICBL posted to its Facebook page Tuesday morning. “Situated South of CommUnity, two blocks away from Big Grove, and still within the Blinky Light District–we are very happy about our new location and can’t wait to give you a socially distant grand tour.”
ICBL was founded in 2004 as a volunteer-run community project with a goal of refurbishing bicycles, recycling old parts, making cycling accessible to all and promoting cycling via events and workshops.
The Library’s central conceit: bikes are “checked out” for six months at a time in exchange for a cash deposit (running $75 to $300). At the end of the six months, the bike goes back to the library and the rentee gets their deposit back, minus a $50 sustainability fee. Or, as happens most often, the rentee can keep the bike permanently and forfeit their whole deposit.
“I think everyone thought it was kind of stupid,” ICBL co-founder Brian Loring said of proposing the concept of the bike library back in the early ’00s. “It was sort of, ‘OK, it’s just one more crazy Iowa City idea.’”
But that idea caught on, and despite moving between three different downtown locations — the result of building sales, rising rents and unrenewed leases — ICBL has checked out thousands of bikes, helped hundreds repair their own bikes through their Rent-A-Bench program, and hosted cycling rides and classes for kids, women and the general public.
The organization has worked out of its spacious South Dubuque Street spot since 2016, but found out in 2017 that the lease would not be renewed, and the building would soon be sold to developers. The search was on for a long-term home close to downtown Iowa City students and commuters, but with rent affordable enough for a nonprofit organization.
They found that in 1222 S Gilbert Court. ICBL bought the building, which is just south of downtown, near other other nonprofit organizations and a short walk from the well-trafficked Big Grove Brewery and Riverfront Crossings Park.
“As a team, we will craft a workspace that is conducive to the ordinary and extraordinary tasks that combine to bring the mission we serve into being,” ICBL wrote in its Facebook post. “As we’ve done before, we will do again.”
ICBL’s physical space has remained closed to the public throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but say they are “thriving” more than ever as locals take up cycling in the absence of shows, festivals and indoor dining. They established a Curbside Check-out system for bikes.
“We overhauled operations from the inside-out,” said ICBL Volunteer Coordinator Sara McGuirk in November. “We hired a new lead mechanic, the wonderful Drew Boss. And with only small groups allowed in the shop at once, I decided it was time to go about volunteer recruiting and onboarding in a more meaningful, individually tailored way.”
“We found solutions for most of our operations, and we can say we’re really thriving now.”
They will keep working out of the South Dubuque Street space until March 1.
“Thank you for your patience and support as we straddle two realms: the boxed & bubble-wrapped world of the long-time library, and the vast, ethereal space of a library yet to be!” the Facebook post concluded.
Iowa City Bike Library timeline
June 2004 – ICBL opens in a city-owned building at 408 E College St in downtown Iowa City
June 2012 – ICBL incorporates as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization
September 2016 – High lease costs at the Capitol Street location cause ICBL to move to 700 S Dubuque St
September 2017 – ICBL finds out their lease won’t be available for renewal. Executive Director Cody Gieselman fears it could be the end of the organization.
January 2018 – ICBL’s February deadline for vacating is extended, offering a welcome reprieve. It is the first of a series of lease extensions that takes them through 2020.
June 2018 – Audrey Wiedemeier takes over as ICBL executive director, the org’s only paid and full-time position. She is only the second executive director in ICBL’s history.
April 2020 – The Bike Library begins offering curbside check-out of bikes, closing the shop to customers, volunteers and board members.
November 2020 – Staff discuss with Little Village how they’ve met an increased demand for bikes during the pandemic, collaborated with neighborhood associations to host bike safety and repair classes for kids, and planned a Black Lives Bike Ride Series.
February 2021 – ICBL announces they have purchased a building at 1222 S Gilbert Ct, and plan to move in on March 1.