It is awfully easy to grab the car keys and drive somewhere – work, the grocery store, the library. The car is soft, warm, cushy, supplied with a radio, and you don’t have to exert yourself (other than cursing at other drivers, maybe).

Bicycle Benefits, a national program aimed at getting more people to ride bikes more often, tries to even up the odds. It asks local businesses to offer a little incentive, say a small discount or a free cookie, as encouragement. Portland is the only place in Maine that participates in Bicycle Benefits, which has operated here about three years; the national program is some 7 years old. In Portland, 40-plus businesses, many of them food-related, have signed on.

For $5, bikers buy a stamp-sized Bicycle Benefits sticker at any participating business to adhere to their helmets. When they show the helmet and sticker at any of these spots, they can collect their perk. At Coast City Comics and Urban Farm Fermentory, for instance, that’s a fairly typical 10 percent off a purchase. A few places offer as much as a 20 percent discount. (A Seattle business offers half off a beer when it’s raining out. Isn’t it always raining in Seattle?)

So is biking in winter in Maine a tough sell?

“For people who would stop riding in August, maybe it would be that extra boost to get them going for one month longer,” said Ian Klepetar, executive director of Bicycle Benefits. “It’s kind of that hand, that pat on your back that’s like ‘yeah, keep going.’ Obviously, it’s just one tool in the city’s toolbox. There are a lot of barriers that people have for not riding. Part of Bicycle Benefits is an attempt to break down one of those.

At The Holy Donut, barrier-breaking consists of a free donut with a purchase.

“There is no expiration so people can get a free donut for the rest of their lives,” Leslie Deane, manager of the Park Avenue store, said laughing. She added that the store hands out an average of three donuts a day to cyclists.

Speaking of the many (perhaps counterintuitive) bakeries and ice cream shops that participate in Bicycle Benefits in Portland, Klepetar said, “That’s what fuels your energy when you are biking. You are not eating gas. To keep going, you need food.”

For more information, visit bb2.bicyclebenefits.org.

— PEGGY GRODINSKY


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