FreeBike Project invades DePaul campus

Monday morning the bike racks on Kenmore were packed, but not with the bikes of students who rode to class.

The bike racks on Kenmore Avenue just south of Fullerton were packed tightly with more than 20 uniform orange, red and white bicycles emblazoned with The North Face Store advertisements.

DePaul staff member Ian Petchnik pointed out the bikes to the university through Twitter.

“So @thenorthface, will these bikes be available to the @DePaulU community, or are you just taking up all the racks?” Petchnik tweeted Sept. 16.

“I wouldn’t say I was annoyed, just confused,” Petchnik said. “There were some other people with similar expressions on their faces as they walked by the bikes.”

No, they weren’t just a nuisance or a shameless advertising ploy from North Face, they’re part of FreeBike Project. Johan Bender, co-founder of the FreeBike Project, was around campus during the week promoting the project.

“We thought Kenmore Avenue would be a great place to show the bikes to students and tell them about the free, healthy and green means of transportation that we offer,” Bender said. He apologized for any inconvenience caused with the bikes along Kenmore.

They currently have FreeBikes leased out to students across the country, but only have bikes for students at DePaul and Northwestern in Illinois, Bender said.

“DePaul University is one of the most renowned schools in Chicago, so we recommended to our client, The North Face, that they select DePaul as one of their campaign locations,” Bender said.

The free bikes offered through the program are leased out to students, requiring a $99 security deposit. In order to keep the bike, students must post a photo of them and their bike on social media every month.

Bender said they don’t disclose numbers on how many bikes they gave out at DePaul but that there “is a significant interest among DePaul students.”

With the new Divvy bike system in Chicago too, Bender said their program is a better fit for college students. “Both FreeBike Project and Divvy are making biking more accessible in Chicago, though in different ways,” Bender said. “Our concept has been uniquely tailored towards college students.” 

Courtney Jacquin contributed to this story.