Finnish Library Loans Out E-Cargo Bikes for Free

This may end up being a useful model for municipalities that want to reduce reliance on the motorcar.

Joensuu ebike

Climate Joensuu

When it comes to removing barriers to adoptions for e-bikes and cargo bikes, rental schemes and/or incentives toward purchasing play a big part. After all, with a sticker price that’s often upwards of thousands of dollars—and a form factor that many people are not familiar with—it is asking a lot for families and/or businesses to take a risk and invest in one of these machines, especially if they are not yet able or willing to go without a car. 

In this context, it is encouraging to see a report from Finnish broadcaster Yle about a library in the city of Joensuu that is including electric cargo bikes in its collection. The bikes are in such high demand that they are usually checked out for weeks on end.

Three electrically assisted cargo bikes can be borrowed from the Vaara libraries as of May 2021. Two of them are box bikes ideal for carrying children, groceries etc., and the third one is a rickshaw bike for transporting maximum two persons. 

Some key points from the original report:

  • Bikes are apparently a fairly common lending item in Finnish libraries
  • The cargo e-bikes, however, are unique to Joensuu
  • Like all items that are available to borrow from the library, they are free of charge and there are no fees—although users are liable for any damage
  • The bikes were purchased through Joensuu’s climate action funds, not the general library funds
  • The library will be assessing from user data in the Fall whether and how the bikes will be available for loan moving forward

According to librarian Miia Oksman, demand has been consistently high in the month or so since the bikes became available. Oksman said: “It’s absolutely certain that today when the library opens, we will have a queue. And it will be made up of people who want to borrow a cargo bike. When this bike was away for a day [because of the Yle report], people were already asking after it.”

The Climate Joensuu site notes:

Cargo bikes have recently become more and more popular as an easy and environmentally friendly means of transport. Using electric cargo bikes reduce the need to use a car in everyday activities, for example when going to the grocery store. The Climate Conscious Blocks project (2018–2021) purchased the bikes for the library to offer everyone the opportunity to try out a cargo bike. 

It’s an interesting idea. The report does make clear, however, that the cost of both purchasing and maintaining these bikes is considerable. The question will likely now be whether an opportunity to try out a bike—without the need to purchase—leads to more families and/or businesses investing in a bike of their own. And, if it really does, this may end up being a useful model for municipalities that want to reduce reliance on the motorcar. 

To be fair, Finland has an advantage over many nations. As demonstrated by the incredible Oodi Central Library in Helsinki, Finnish culture is familiar with the idea of libraries not simply as a place to borrow books, but as non-commercial public spaces that advance the common good. From maker spaces to tool libraries, Oodi is a fascinating model for what libraries can and probably should be. 

And it sounds like Joensuu library is embracing a similarly expansive vision. For reference, the city of Joensuu, which is home to roughly 76,000 people, has the goal to become carbon-neutral by 2025.

Governments spend a huge amount of money promoting electric cars, and yet smaller investments in bikes, e-bikes, cargo bikes, and other forms of micromobility could well provide a bigger bang for their buck. In Oslo, Norway, for example, the city gives residents a grant toward buying a cargo bike. And there are some interesting bike-to-work benefit schemes in the United Kingdom too

Coming to a library near you soon?