Madison's status as a gold-level bicycle-friendly city isn't exactly news. From our beautiful paths to bike-commuting workshops and events year-round, our town is clearly ahead of the game in American bicycle advocacy.
Bendyworks, a web development shop located at 106 E. Doty St. downtown, may change that. The company is taking advantage of current renovation plans to shoot for gold-star Bike League status as a business, with developer Jon Childress leading the charge.
Supporting community projects isn't new for Bendyworks. The company allots money every year to supporting initiatives the management cares about, like local "hackathons" for programmers. Internally, regular "growth days" allow employees to work on their own projects.
Childress became interested in alternative transportation advocacy when he was a mechanical engineering student. "My last year of college we had a year-long group project on recouping energy losses from internal combustion engines," he recalls. "It was eye-opening because of how disastrously inefficient we found automobile engines to be. I thought, wow, these are really terrible "" and ubiquitous."
Childress became an advocate of public transit and bicycles. He moved to Madison last fall and promptly ditched his car for a life on two wheels.
An office renovation this spring is the perfect opportunity for Bendyworks to implement bike-friendly infrastructure. The discussion began: "What can businesses offer that would support people bicycling to work?"
The Bendyworks team identified three common detriments to bike commuting: cost (while cars are ultimately more expensive than bicycles, car loans often make them seem more affordable); lack of knowledge about things like bike maintenance and etiquette; and environment -- mainly weather conditions, but also lack of office infrastructure.
"We already had a shower; we needed lockers to store gear and hanging bike racks. None of these are expensive on their own -- they just need to be planned for," says Childress.
The Bike League offers guidelines for businesses looking to achieve a bike-friendliness rating, such as providing bike maintenance tools and work stands.
Bendyworks will dedicate a small corner of the remodeled office as a bike maintenance area. "When I priced out all the tools, including a bike stand, it was about 60 bucks for everything," Childress notes.
The company's "T3" -- "technical talk Tuesday" -- forum will offer classes like maintenance 101, bike safety and bicycle engineering.
The Bike League stipulates that the business designate a "bike organizer." In that role, Childress recently used his "growth day" to invite coworkers to bring their bikes in for a small makeover. "I'm not a mechanic, but I can make sure they run as well as possible," Childress says. "I didn't know if anyone would bring a bike in, but there were 10 bikes in the hallway, out of 18 employees." He will continue the maintenance days as needed.
Bendyworks is also addressing the cost of investing in a bike. The company already offers an interest-free computer loan to all employees.
"I thought a bike would make a great parallel to that. People are healthier, happier, less stressed, better able to concentrate" when they ride bikes, Childress notes. "I made the case that it was in Bendy's interest to support cycling, and cofounders Stephen Anderson and Brad Grzesiak didn't need any convincing at all."
Bendyworks now offers a $1,500 interest-free bike loan.
The Bike League takes applications twice a year, then interviews potential candidates. The Bendyworks remodel won't be done in time for the League's next round of applications in June, so the company will apply this winter. That's fine by Childress.
"What's more important to me is how well we do in the winter. It's easy to be bike-friendly in ideal conditions, but what stops people from biking in Madison more than anything is the harsh winters. That's where gear becomes expensive and infrastructure starts to fail. If we can support that enough for most of our employees to be cycling in that time, we've succeeded."
Ultimately, he sees the bike-friendly remodel as an extension of Bendy's approach to business.
"Our whole philosophy is agile development: no top-down planning. You start off with the best you can and keep on improving upon what you've built previously. We want to take that same approach to becoming a model cycling business. You learn more, you improve, and you turn that into a guide."