Tech startups in the Bay Area are famous for offering lavish, sometimes almost absurd perks (kombucha on tap) to their employees, ostensibly to attract the smartest people on Earth.
Some companies offer loaner bikes to get around their sprawling campuses, some offer free bike parking, some offer travel allowances. Some companies are providing added benefits for those that bike to work by way of on-site maintenance and repair. I got a chance to talk to Airbnb and Citizen Chain, a north shore shop specializing in repair, about how they're working together to make cycling easier for commuters.
I asked Airbnb about the benefits that the company offers its cycling employees. Molly Turner, director of public policy, told me that, Airbnb "loves bikes and looks to support bike commuters in whatever way possible."
"Our location in the city makes parking difficult and public transportation less convenient than in other areas," she said. "An on-site bike room encourages staff to bring their bikes, and feel safe leaving them throughout the day."
She added that pumps and basic maintenance equipment are available for employee use as well as free bike tune-ups from local shops. In addition, the company encourages employees to fix bikes themselves and offers in-house bike maintenance and safety workshops.
Citizen Chain co-owner Sasha Barsky was contracted to do all the bike repairs for Airbnb. Citizen Chain is a shop in North Beach that specializes in repairs, taking on bike maintenance issues that other shops can't or won't do. "We take pride in our repair abilities and we think that for environmental reasons, most people don't need to buy a new mass-produced bicycle from China," Barsky said. "Most of our bicycles are perfectly okay, they just need a little bit of attention."
I asked Barsky whether he thought that perks like these actually encourage cycling to work, to which he replied: "I think more people might be persuaded to ride to work if a maintenance program was implemented, but I am not convinced that it would be the thing to convince people to ride."
"A better incentive would be a secure place to leave your bicycle at work," he noted.
Other companies offer loaner bikes, bike parking, and other perks, but a lot of cyclists really don't know how to maintain their bikes, let alone understand that bikes need maintaining. A well-cared-for bike is that much easier to use, obviously.
So I asked both Barsky and Turner how far will companies go to please their biking employees? "We're interested in more contract work -- we'd like to go off site and fix more bicycles," Barsky said. "We'd love to get a chance to talk to other startups like Yelp, Twitter, or Foursquare, and we also think that this perk could be extended to residences like apartment buildings."
For Turner's part, she said "Coming up, we will be hosting more bike maintenance classes and are always excited about partnering with local bike shops. Airbnb loves bikes. As we grow as a company so does the number of bikes on the bike rack."
Now that bike parking will be a requirement for all new construction or major remodels thanks to the Bike Parking Planning Code, bike parking alone will be a right, not a perk. That begs the question: wonder if and when we'll see more perks like free maintenance and repair classes to encourage employees to bike to work?
Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He's can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.