Northwest Credit Unions Ride the Bike Loan Wave

Verity member and employee Sasha Kemble loves the bike loan program.

Portland, Seattle and Eugene rank in the top five of “America’s Best Bike Cities” according to Bicycling Magazine. Segregated bike lanes, municipal bike racks, bike boulevards and “smart savvy bike shops” were some of the metrics the publication used to rank Portland as second, Seattle as third and Eugene as fifth on the top-50 list. Salem rolled in as the 19th most bike-friendly city.

Why wouldn’t credit unions tap the market for bike loans, then? Many are.

“We did not create this loan thinking it would be a profitable product by itself,” said Laurie Kresl, vice president of planning and business development for Unitus Community Credit Union. “Instead, the intent was that it was created out of a need in a community that we served — the biking community. Cyclists and the bike shops told us of the need and our reasoning was that we would get members via this loan. By supporting one of their passions, our hope was that they would be passionate about Unitus in return.”

Riders returned the love. The credit union has granted 180 bike loans since beginning the program, and average balance of $1,500. More tread on the tires for Unitus: approximately 12 percent of applicants became new members.

Verity Credit Union tapped Seattle’s love of cycling last year with the “Roll on Seattle” campaign that both promoted its bike loan program and engaged members to send in photos of their bikes. For every photo submitted, the credit union donated $5 to the local nonprofit BikeWorks. The campaign won a Spectrum Marketing Award at the NWCUA’s Marketers’ Conference last month, and continues to win the hearts of bike enthusiasts.

“We have had a huge positive response from the bicycling community,” said Melina Young, director of marketing. “People get so excited when they hear about this loan being available because it is so unique. We have six local bicycle shops that offer our financing in their locations, and many of them approached us asking if they could offer it. One of the really cool things we have seen is that we have gotten people to bring other loans and accounts to us even if they don’t get a bicycle loan after talking to us about this product.”

Young’s insight is a common thread among credit unions offering successful programs; reaching cyclists who might become credit union promoters is all about building partnerships with the vendors those cyclists seek out.

Portland’s Point West Credit Union offers a robust program linking credit union members with the cycling community’s shops, insurance program, bike shows and manufactures.

Sound Credit Union offers a similar program, providing pre-approved financing for bikes and accessories.

In Her Own Words

How are cycle loans working for members? We asked. Sasha Kemble is a member – and an employee – of Verity. Here is her story:

I was thrilled when I found out Verity would offer bike loans. I used to occasionally ride my “clunker” bike to Verity when I lived only 4.5 miles away, but I’d recently moved further away, and I knew that my old bike was too heavy to make the commute in to work much fun. I’d been looking at a few bikes, but of the ones I’d test-ridden that felt great, the cheapest was $600, the most expensive was $2,400, and the one that I really had my eye on was $1,200. Though that was reasonable for a good bike, it was more than I had set aside in my “rainy day” fund, and I didn’t want to put that much on my credit card if it wasn’t an emergency.

”There’s a wickedly delightful feeling at moving of my own accord past traffic back-ups at lights.”
—Sasha Kemble, Verity Credit Union

So Verity’s bike loans arrived at the perfect time — I could be on my new bike riding around all summer, and put the money that I would have spent on gas toward my (very reasonable!) bike payment. Verity also offers subsidies for alternative commutes, so if I rode at least 10 workdays each month, I’d cover half my payment.

Mainly, I use my bike to commute a few times a week — more so on nice weeks! But I also use it to get around when my partner and I are meeting up with friends. He’s been without a car for 13-odd years, and a bike has been his main mode of transport for the last 10, so he was a positive influence on me. I do recommend it to others — I was the first bike loan, but my partner was an early adopter, too. Given that he only has a bike for transport, he sprung for a higher-end custom bike from R + E, a great local shop that builds beautiful bikes and was one of our early shop partners.

For me, a bike that fits means fewer muscle aches after high-mileage rides. I feel more attuned with the sights, sounds, and smells around me than I would in a car — and there’s a wickedly delightful feeling at moving of my own accord past traffic back-ups at lights.”

Questions about this story? Contact Lynn Heider: 503.350.2225, lheider@nwcua.org.

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