Long-term bicycle leasing. As opposed to short-term rentals.

I heard from Ax that you can do this in Belgium, lease a couple of bikes for about 99 euros a year. That would make sense if people are living somew they can have the usage of the bikes without the hassle of reselling them later or trying to ship them back to Britain.

This seems like a great idea for a city like Austin, which is fairly bike-friendly (despite the heat and the hills) but hasn't developed a robust system for bike sharing or short-term rentals. The city might not have the population density for a Bicing-style program, and although you can rent bikes from a lot of shops, if you're planning to do that for longer than a week or so the costs stack up. There are in Austin a large number of cyclical residents (i.e., students at the university) who would need a bike for two years but not ten, and there are also a lot of people who might be interested in getting a bike but are dissuaded by the up-front costs and the prospects of maintenance and so on. The market for used bikes isn't especially well-developed. You could find a good one craigslist for perhaps $200, but without any consumer protections if it turns out to be a lemon. Or you could go to a bike shop, but the selection is small and prices are, accordingly, relatively high. What newbie wants to shell out $400 for a bike, only to discover that he's got a type of bike that is not well-suited to his usage patterns, or that she ends up driving to work anyway?

How about theft? It might be that the leasers will be less concerned with anti-theft precautions, as they don't stand to lose the entire cost of the bike. But I don't think they would be entirely cavalier about it, because they would still be on the hook for a new lease, and cab fare home. And one way to address this issue would be if the leased bikes were somehow distinctive (a fleet of uniform color, perhaps, with engraved serial numbers). That would diminish their value to thieves--it might preclude resale, for example. It might even be that if the fleet bikes are less likely to be stolen, that's another incentive to lease a bike rather than to buy outright.

So there would be a reasonably good market here. Buy a fleet of moderately priced bicycles (around the $400 level) and lease them out, for about $100 a year. The fee could include a deposit or insurance to cover damages or theft, and include access to free maintenance (the kind of tweaks that are easy and cheap for bike shops, but discouraging for people who don't know their way around a chain). At the end of the year, you can re-up your lease, or bring the bike back to the shop, where they can put it to rights and rent it out again. Properly maintained, the life of the bicycle should well exceed a several year span, so within a couple of years the shop would be profiting on the leases while offering their customers a more flexible option.

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