With a background working with bikes in his home country of Ireland, 36-year-old Pope knows what it takes to maintain decent wheels. With a team of volunteers that’s exactly what he has been doing since last June, when BikeSurfBerlin launched.
When he got to the German capital, Pope decided he would create a transport equivalent of an online couch surfing network, through which travellers can find, and offer, free accommodation.
“I had such a great experience couch surfing but when I moved to Berlin 18 months ago I wasn’t able to host people in my flat, so I thought why not let them use my bikes,” Pope told The Local.
Pedalling on trust
He and a friend started with just three bikes less than a year ago. Now, the BikeSurfBerlin team has 14 under its belt, and have had 163 happy cyclist users.
Most of the bikes have been donated by people leaving the city who could not take their bike with them. Two were bought at police auctions for €10 and, he assured, they were careful never to accept stolen bikes.
“It’s my passion,” said Pope. “It’s not a job because it doesn’t pay, but I have money saved and wanted to do something here that contributes to society.”
“Although it’s not even been eight months it feels like we’ve been going a long time and put in a lot of work.” Summer, he said, was by far the busiest time with all the bikes booked for more a week in advance. Typically, a person can borrow one for up to two weeks but when the weather gets warmer and tourists begin arriving, this will be cut to a week to “share the wealth.”
So far, mostly only registered couch surfers have used the system as it provides the BikeSurf team with a way of knowing if they are trustworthy. “We don’t want to get into deposits, or money or photocopying passports,” said Pope, who currently operates out of his courtyard.
He and his helpers were, he explained, trying to go against the standard model of bike rental companies. “I think it’s great that a trust system like this can work.” Pope said, adding he was a believer in people. “They are generally quite nice and don’t try to rip you off if you give them the freedom to.”
A way of life
And where better to test this theory than in Berlin, where for many cycling is a favoured method of transport and even a way of life. “It’s flat and it isn’t rainy,” he said. “I feel safe on the streets here and want to encourage people to feel so too.” Unlike other cities less geared up for two-wheel travel, cycle paths weave across most of the German capital.
While enthusiasm and ability are clearly in abundance among the BikeSurf team, money could prove to be a problem.
Although initial outgoings have been just a couple of hundred euros, Pope said they would need money to keep going and improve.
“I think we’re going to try to make our approach a bit more direct so we can recoup a bit,” he said.
“I realize that people coming from say, Ukraine, generally might not have the same amount of cash as people from Sweden for example,” he said, adding that he needed to be sure that people would not feel guilty if they could not afford to make a donation.
But Pope was optimistic relaxed the project would find the money it required to continue: “We have to emphasize that we need some money to run the service but also bear in mind that people are coming from very different socio-economic backgrounds.”