Founder of bike-sharing site: ‘Bike revolution is in the air.’

CyclinginSiauliai

Bike enthusiast and international traveler Agne Milukaite is not afraid of challenges. Earlier this year, she made the decision to fuse two of her passions, cycling and community, with one project meant to bring people together. cycle.land is an online portal where people can offer their pedal-powered rides to visitors and new residents in their areas. Agne’s vision centers around preserving a world where people are unafraid to connect and communicate with their neighbors. Read on to see how the project got started.

Where did you get the idea for cycle.land?

I was born with bikes in my blood. I come from Šiauliai, a city in Lithuania which has been a bike city since 1940s when a bike factory was built there. Bikes united people: there were cycling races, newspapers and bands that played cool music inspired by bikes and cycling. I left Šiauliai when I was 17 and moved to America, where my first purchase was a vintage blue bike to get around in Connecticut. In high school, I remember once being introduced as “that girl who bikes to school.” Since those days, I have lived in different cities in the USA and Europe, and everywhere I went I got a bike. I am biased that cycling is the best way to explore a new city, to really take the place in, understand its twists and turns, find places where locals spend their leisure time and get to know the best hidden coffee shops.

Cycling is the best way to explore a new city, to really take the place in, understand its twists and turns, find places where locals spend their leisure time and get to know the best hidden coffee shops.

I moved to Oxford (UK) to do my masters degree and, instead of buying a bike, I borrowed one from my friend for the duration of my studies. What followed then was an idea to start a community that is united through bikes. I first started cycle.land as a community for people who are coming to Oxford to study or visit and wish to have access to a bike. Since, I expanded my scope and decided to have a global community of bike sharers.

WebsiteWhat does the cycle.land community ideally look like to you?

There is this old-timey idea of neighborliness where we generally feel comfortable sharing with our neighbors. Especially in college dorms, many people experience a sense of community where sharing is the most natural. If there is not enough sugar to bake a cake, people are very comfortable with knocking on their neighbor’s door and asking to borrow some. Maybe they later share a piece of cake with that neighbor! Ideally, cycle.land will do the same for bikes: create a global community or neighborhood of bike sharers. Members in every corner of the world would post a picture of their bikes, so that travelers can borrow them. When planning visiting a place or when they have friends visiting them, cycle.land members would check for available bikes they might like to borrow. Hopefully, cycle.land will – beyond bike sharing – become a hub for cyclists to share tips on best places to bike and the ideal local cycling routes.

How big is the cycle.land community, and how fast has it spread?

We have just started the site and are testing it with a close-knit community of friends and family. Next step is to develop the social infrastructure, so that it can accommodate larger numbers of people and still keep the community vibe. That being said, I am excited to say that we have members in the USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Lithuania and China.

What challenges have you faced while creating and constructing this idea?BerkeleyBikeJPG

There are many. I have not studied programming, marketing or design. It is all new to me. But the best thing about facing those challenges is that it forces me to be resourceful about the knowledge and abilities I already have and how to use them in new situations. I will give you a silly example that illustrates this. I was not sure how to go about creating my own website with shiny pictures since many of the pictures that I see online are taken by professionals with degrees and expensive equipment. Without funds to hire a professional (nor degree in photography or fancy camera), I decided to take my phone on a sunny day in Oxford and to snap a crazy amount of pictures. After looking at them, I found one that currently is the homepage photo on my website. That is not to discredit professional photographers that take amazing pictures but in these beginning stages, I am making do with what I have to move forward. That counts much more than perfection. So, I am learning to bootstrap and becoming a woman of all traits–a Renaissance Woman!

Have you found it difficult to get the word out about this project, or have people been quick to catch on?

I am really happy that people are generally excited about the project and have been spreading the word around! Cycle.land is about building a community, and so it is really important to develop the ideal social infrastructure so that the project can grow sustainably. This is mostly about talking and listening to many people and working with the community but will require some funding as well. At the moment I am preparing for the launch of a crowd-funding campaign which should come live later this year. Watch this space! There will be lots of exciting gifts for supporters!

Do you think there are any social ramifications to sharing bikes? Could cycle.land help forge world peace?

Hahaha, I am not sure about world peace! But I do think it will be a puzzle piece in the bike revolution that is slowly taking place globally. Countries like Denmark and the Netherlands have been putting cycling at the heart of mobility and are now spreading the idea. Check out the Dutch or Danish Cycle Embassies! Cities are making great progress in shifting the focus on bikes. In Paris cycling has been made more attractive by allowing cyclists to use bus lanes, one-way streets, and distributing free cycling maps. While usually the city has about 700km of cycling routes, September 27th is an official car-free day, so all Paris will be open for cycling. Paris, London, New York and so many other cities have successful and growing bike sharing schemes. Cycling is the solution for cities’ congestion problems. It is a way of life that makes places friendlier, healthier and greener, and all over the world people are catching up to this.

Bike revolution is in the air, and my hope is that cycle.land will help to expand people’s abilities to make more use of the bikes they currently own and enable them to cycle not just at their homes but wherever they go.

Bike revolution is in the air, and my hope is that cycle.land will help to expand people’s abilities to make more use of the bikes they currently own and enable them to cycle not just at their homes but wherever they go. I imagine that the next time people visit a new city, instead of checking how to get around in public transport, they check bike routes and borrow a bike from a fellow cycle.land community member.

How does it feel to embark on your own venture? Does it make you nervous? Excited?

Working on my own project is the best! I feel very fortunate that I have time and energy to focus on a project that means a lot to me. There have been periods in my life when I was dreaming on having my own venture but I was not sure how to go about it or I had something else going on and it was not the right time. Now I feel ready to give it all I have and make it happen!

Tell me where you are living and what you are doing when you are not creating amazing online communities?

This summer has been crazy with traveling. I visited Italy, Lithuania, Germany and France. A bit of it was to do research for my venture and most of it was for fun. The most exciting was going back to my hometown of Šiauliai and discovering that wake boarding has become big there. So, I got to learn how to wakeboard and would hang out with the local wake boarding crowd. I am now dreaming of taking the next step and move on to kite surfing. When I am procrastinating, I watch women’s wake-boarding and kite-surfing clips!

CyclingVashonIslandWhat vision do you have for the future of this venture?

In the nearest future, the focus will be on growing the community without loosing the neighborly feel. My crowd-funding campaign a bit later this year will help with that. I hope that I get a lot of support and there will be exciting tokens of appreciation for those willing to help! I am also building ties with institutional partners to help the cycle.land community and cycling in general. The grand vision is that cycle.land will be a highly connected, vital part of the cycling infrastructure globally making it easier for everyone to share their bikes and for everyone to cycle happily wherever they are!