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Commuters looking to ditch the car in favor of trains and two wheels finally have a friend in a long-promised downtown bike center.

Located inside Salt Lake City's transit hub, the Canyon Sports Bicycle Transit Center — which opens Saturday — offers secure bike storage, rentals, a maintenance shop and a shower.

Canyon Sports, which won the operator bid, has a ready fleet of road, commuter and mountain bikes that can be rented from $5 to $8 an hour or $25 to $45 a day, depending on the model. There also is a two-tiered, 64-slot storage rack on a tension cable, where "parking" spaces can be rented for $1 a day, $12 a month or, for a full membership with perks, $96 a year. (Members also must pay a $20 activation fee.)

The public-private partnership, years in the making, hopes to service FrontRunner and TRAX commuters who want to bike to their office, as well as downtown tourists. But it also provides a "reverse-commuting" model, designed to accommodate Salt Lake City residents who ride downtown and need a place to stash their bike before catching a train to Sandy or Davis County or elsewhere.

"Our goal is really to promote alternative commuting," says Gerry Carpenter, spokesman for the Utah Transit Authority. "After five years, it should be self-sustaining and a completely private venture."

Capital cost for the center — at 250 S. 600 West — was $228,000, while operating expenses for a five-year program will run another $440,000. The majority was paid by UTA and Salt Lake City, which earned a $250,000 grant toward the center from the U.S. Department of Energy. Wasatch Front Regional Council kicked in $100,000 and the Utah Department of Transportation added $25,000. Grant monies also came from the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee and Canyon Sports.

A glut of bureaucrats and competing interests slowed the development of the bike center, which has been repeatedly pledged by politicians.

"Launching it in late September is definitely not ideal," says Kevin Rogers, chief operations officer for Canyon Sports. "But I think Salt Lake is primed for this."

Rogers says a potential sponsorship deal with Jamis Bicycles may result in an additional demo fleet, including the possibility of electric-hybrid rentals in the future. In winter, when cycling wanes, Canyon may offer ski services at the shop, including tuning. Eventually, if a direct transit line from the hub to the ski resorts is created, Canyon also could offer ski rentals.

"It's not the Death Star — 'not fully functioning,' " Rogers jokes, "but it's going to be morphing constantly for the first two or three years."

During the winter, operators will study the community's needs for the bike center. But Rogers says the goal is to make it self-sustaining and not a burden on the taxpayer.

"I'm hoping that we're going to find out we don't have enough [bike] parking spaces," says Becka Roolf, the city's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. "It's really quite forward thinking."

Roolf says the volume of bike customers should spike once new TRAX lines to the suburbs and international airport begin running. Plus, more and more cyclists, she says, are biking year-round.

Bike center members will have access to lockers and, via a key card, use of the maintenance shop before and after business hours. The public shop will be open every day except Sunday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. May through October. Members can access their bikes — using their own locks — year-round whenever the hub is open.

Rogers says Canyon Sports is working with area hotels on offering special discounts for guests. In the future, he hopes to double the storage space to about 130 slots.

And for commuters, a towel service may be coming for those who use the large but lone shower. "It's nicer than most people's home shower," Rogers promises.

Celebratory ride and reception

Residents are invited to join Mayor Ralph Becker and others Saturday on a 4-mile downtown bike ride to celebrate the completion of Main Street bike lanes, the opening of a new bicycle center at the transit hub and the city's "Silver-Level Bicycle Friendly Community" award from the League of American Bicyclists. The ride begins at 9:45 a.m. at 2000 S. Main. The route runs from Main to South Temple to 400 West to 200 South, and then to the new bike center on 600 West. The city also is celebrating the new green shared bike lanes on South Temple from 300 East to 400 West, and the about-to-be painted green lanes on Main from South Temple to 700 South. A free public reception at the Canyon Sports Bicycle Transit Center, 250 S. 600 West, begins about 11 a.m. There will be live music, food and a bike giveaway. The $20 activation fee to become a member of the bike center will be waived Saturday.