• Hamilton, Ont. startup Start the Cycle makes these bikes available to students free of charge through the McMaster University library. (Photo: Shiloh Covey/Start the Cycle)

A Hamilton, Ont. startup is trying to make borrowing a bicycle as easy as checking out a library book — literally.

Start the Cycle, a free bike share program run out of the McMaster University library, allows students to borrow a bike for up to 48 hours to get around campus, run errands or simply explore the city.

Shiloh Covey, director and co-founder of Start the Cycle and a recent McMaster graduate, said the program is aimed at promoting active transportation for the health of individual students and the planet.

“We want students to see what it’s like to bike not just for fitness and recreation, but for transportation,” she said. “It’s a great alternative, especially in cities, because it’s affordable, it’s completely sustainable and it’s good for you.”

Start the Cycle currently makes 25 bikes available to McMaster and Mohawk College students. To borrow a bike, students simply present their student card to the librarian. Their information is kept on file in case of theft, but Covey said so far all the bikes have been returned. A sponsorship program for local businesses means Start the Cycle is able to repair or replace bikes at no additional cost to the users.

Covey said membership in the program is growing every semester, and other schools have expressed an interest in using Start the Cycle’s model to start their own bike-share programs. This summer, Start the Cycle will also partner with City of Hamilton recreation centres to offer a bike-share program for youth.

“Hamilton is really quickly becoming one of the new and upcoming cycling cities,” Covey noted, adding the province recently announced $295,000 to help the city construct bi-directional bike lanes on Bay Street, which cuts through the downtown core.

“It’s been a great city for us to experiment and grow as a cycling organization,” Covey said.