Back in 2006, I was struck by a somewhat goofy idea: I wanted to find a way to ride my bike and earn money doing it. Inspired by the principles behind Google Adsense and PageRank, I envisioned a system where cyclists' routes could be monetized based on a variety of factors, including GPS data, census information, neighborhood demographics, traffic density, and more.

I was able to cobble together a prototype in 2006 that could weigh these factors logarithmically, and the results were... intriguing! Though it was kind of an imaginary measure of value ascribed to someone's bicycle route, the potential of "scoring" a route—for any application—based on more than just mileage felt like an idea had potential.

The core of Ads-on-Bikes was an exchange platform designed to match cyclists with advertisers, allowing for campaigns to be tailored to specific routes and times. However, I quickly ran into big questions that I couldn't easily answer: What's a fair payment for cyclists? How effective is this mode of advertising? What would the signs look like, and how would they attach to the bikes? And crucially, how could we track the routes, especially in a world just before the widespread adoption of iPhones?

I experimented with a GPS tracker (Remember, this was pre-smartphone!) that wrote to GPX files and even developed a script to parse these files and calculate scores for routes. But reality set in with some practical challenges: bikes are most visible when parked and stationary, making moving ads less effective than hoped. The signs would need to be large to be noticeable, complicating the logistics even further.

Despite these challenges, the idea seemed to have potential. Advertising agencies expressed interest in buying "fleets" for campaigns, suggesting there was a market for this kind of advertising. Interestingly, this concept still resonates with cyclists and those interested in sustainable advertising methods. To this day, I consistently receive new sign-ups to my mailing list and hits on the project's website, indicating a sustained curiosity and enthusiasm for the idea. Yet, when I revisited the project in 2016, armed with a website for tracking and a Twilio number for more sophisticated data collection, the results were underwhelming.

Fifteen years later, what I have to show for this adventure is a blog post, a mailing list of wonderfully confused individuals, and, most importantly, a good friendship that emerged from the endeavor (Hi John!).

Get in touch

I'm still fascinated by the intersection of technology, cycling, and sustainability. If you're intrigued by this idea and see potential in it, or if you simply appreciate the quirky way I approach problem-solving, I'd love to hear from you. Whether you're interested in investing in a new iteration of Ads-on-Bikes or seeking a consultant with a creative outlook, reach out. Let's see what we can create together.