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New West Bloomington Revitalization Project book bike hits the road

Woman on bicycle holding box of books
Dan Steadman and Karen Schmidt of the West Bloomington Revitalization Project pose for a photo. The group has purchased an upgraded book bike, a new tricycle with a custom built book box.

The West Bloomington Revitalization Project (WBRP) book bike is helping children and adults pick up new reads — with pumped tires and a fresh coat of paint.

Actually, it’s a bit more than that.

Since 2011, the book bike has helped create new readers in Bloomington as well as supply readers with more novels to peruse. And while the community has enjoyed its service for more than a decade, that service has worn down the original vehicle.

Box of books on bicycle
The West Bloomington Revitalization Project Book Bike has received an upgrade, a new tricycle with a custom built book box.

The first book bike was a yellow, standard front-loaded tricycle with a wooden bookcase. The two front wheels allowed for a heavy load to be carried, but the bike was not specifically tailored for book bike usage. Over years of wear and tear, WBRP program manager Karen Schmidt and the WBRP Bike Co-op decided it was time for an upgrade.

“I have struggled for a while with the weight of the book bike itself,” said Schmidt. She’s been riding the bike for as long as it’s been around. “The bike co-op was really concerned about the fact it’s got pedal brakes, not hand brakes. And it just needed a little more versatility.”

The WBRP went to Oregon-based Icicle Tricycles for the new ride. And now, after paying a nearly $4,000 price tag from fundraised money and the bike co-op, the concerns held by Schmidt and the co-op are a thing of the past.

The new book bike has forgone pedal brakes and now has hand brakes. Hand brakes are known for their strong brake power. The bike, which is another front-loaded tricycle, is specifically designed to be a book bike. That means it’s intended to withstand and distribute the heavy weights of the case and books, meaning an easier ride. The bike also has seven gears, which gives the rider more of that desired versatility in speed.

One of the most noticeable changes is the bike’s appearance. Bruce Clark, who painted the George Floyd mural on Allin Street, designed the wrap for the new bike. Schmidt said her favorite part of the new design is its motto: “Love your book. Love to read. Pass it on.”

But the motto itself isn’t why she likes it. That motto is repeated on the design in different languages — specifically different languages spoken in the District 87 community.

Box of books on bicycle
The West Bloomington Revitalization Project plans to take its new book bike to community events throughout the summer.

“I’m hoping when someone comes along and says, ‘Hey, that’s in my language, I can read that,’ the interaction is even closer,” Schmidt said.

The revamped book bike made its debut at a recent Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market. Schmidt said, weather permitting, that’s where it will be every weekend.

She adds it will also make appearances at Miller Park Zoo for birthday parties and the Juneteenth Culture Fest at Miller Park over the summer as well.

With a new look and improved function, Schmidt said the book bike will continue to serve the community the way it always has, by giving people the “magic” of reading she’s experienced since her youth.

“From an early age I just saw that magic of somebody finding a book that was ‘their book’. And I just want to get those books into people’s homes,” Schmidt said. “It is a magical thing.”

Jack Podlesnik is a reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.
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