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A Denver entrepreneur with a social conscience is giving the European concept of public bikes a capitalistic twist by adding advertising to his fleet of yellow, white and black bikes.

Joe Canepa initiated his Cheker Bikes program June 30, putting out 30 bicycles in downtown Denver for use by anyone needing transportation within the city. Riders can hop on a bike, ride to their destination and leave the bike there for another person to ride elsewhere. He has lined up about 20 advertisers, who kick in $275 each to have their ads placed on one bike for a cycling season, roughly from mid-April through Thanksgiving.

The outdoor boards garner considerably more attention than those placed with standard media, Mr. Canepa said. For instance, when a company advertises in print media, "somebody flips over the page, and boom, boom, it's gone," he said. ".... If you advertise on a Cheker Bike, it's easily identifiable. Perhaps because it's new and unique, people look at the bike and the ad really gets noticed."

The ads, displayed on baskets slung over the bikes' back fender, now usually consist of just logos.

Mr. Canepa, who has held numerous advertising and marketing jobs since graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1980, came up with the bike-advertising idea while exporting bicycles to Germany. As he traveled around European cities such as Amsterdam, Mr. Canepa became intrigued by community bike programs, in which publicly owned bikes are placed throughout major cities for free use by their citizens.

To start his for-profit Cheker Bike program, Mr. Canepa linked up with Margie Ball-Cook, a professor at Denver's Metropolitan State College who also wanted to create a fleet of community bikes. Ms. Ball-Cook collected some 150 donated bikes, which Mr. Canepa and a team of inner-city youth are repairing and painting yellow, white or black for easy identification.

Mr. Canepa is encouraging creativity. He noted that a new advertiser, Oz Architecture, has been scouring second-hand stores to find a stuffed Toto and some ruby red slippers for its bike.

Initial sponsors include a bevy of local restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries and even grocery stores. One co-op piece was put together by Pearl Izumi, a Boulder, Colo.-based manufacturer of biking apparel, and local retailer the Sporting Woman.

The Sporting Woman's ad carries logos right now, said store owner Lisa Voorhees, but she expects to incorporate specific marketing messages into the ad over the next couple of months. Because the bike program is different, supports alternative transportation and gives inner-city kids something to do, Ms. Voorhees said, "All the way around, I think it's a plus."

One of the first to advertise with Mr. Canepa was Mickey Zeppelin, co-owner of City Spirit Cafe in Denver. Mr. Zeppelin said he placed an ad, which features the cafe's logo, as a way to "support the concept of creating a less motorized urban core." However, he expects to gain business from the ad as well. The ad is "like the old walking placards, except it's on a bike," he said.

Another advertiser is Rock Island, a popular nightclub that features alternative dance music. "I don't know if I'm going to sell another drink because of" the bike ad, said owner David Clamage, "but that's not why I bought it." Mr. Clamage said 99% of the reason he bought the ad is to promote less vehicle use. But he expects intangible image benefits as well, since his core mix of customers in the 18-25 age range are likely bike riders.

Advertising could help sustain and expand the public bike program because more revenue will be available, said James Mackay, bicycle and pedestrian planner for the city.

While other cities have experimented with community bikes, such programs usually struggle for funding, he noted.

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