Bay Area Bike Share launched today, and I thought I’d post a review of my first ride. Anyone who knows me knows I’m an avid bike rider, and so I couldn’t wait to be one of the first to try out this new way of getting around San Francisco.
First a little about the program: It consists of more than 600 bikes scattered around 70 locations in San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. It’s designed so that you can pick up a bike at one self-serve station and drop it off at any other. It’s $9 for 24 hours, $22 for 3 days, or $88-$99 for a full year membership. If you have a bike out for more than 30 minutes at a time, you have to pay a little extra. Otherwise, there are no additional costs. You have to have a credit card to use it.
San Francisco is just the latest city to join the worldwide bike share movement. The biggest programs are all overseas, mostly in China.
Today a friend dropped me off at work, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try out the new program by biking home. There are multiple bike stations near my office, including one just yards away on the Embarcadero. However, it turns out the San Francisco bike stations are all clustered in the northeast quadrant of the city. The nearest one to my home was not very close – still another three-quarters of a mile short. I could only go as far as the MTA offices at Market and South Van Ness. So that would have to be my final destination, with either an uphill walk or a Muni ride after that the rest of the way to the Lower Haight.
During my lunch break, I signed up online as a member, pulling out my credit card for the $88 fee. I thought I’d be good to go immediately. But it turns out they have to mail you an electronic key before your membership becomes active. So I couldn’t use my membership on that evening’s ride, and would have to pay an additional $9 for the trip home. Still cheaper than a cab ride, I guess, but a lot more than the $2 Muni fare. I quickly calculated how many rides I would have to take to get ahead on the membership fee – 10 rides. That sounds like a reasonable goal, as it seems at least once a month I find myself without either car or bike in a convenient spot, and have to rely on Muni.
After work, I walked the few yards to the bike share station to let the fun begin. There’s a touch-screen user interface that’s simple to navigate. When you’ve paid, it gives you a code. You can pick any bike, enter the code where it’s docked, and the dock releases the bike.
The bikes, which are in an unmistakeable green and blue design, are getting a lot of attention. While I was getting my bike, a woman stopped and asked me some questions about how it works. Later, another bike rider started up a conversation during my ride.
I had remembered to bring my bike helmet to work, so I was good on that front. But I’ve seen lots of people riding without one, which I think is a bit dangerous. Perhaps there should be some way to rent helmets as well?
After I got my bike and had my helmet on, I was off. The ride was a lot different than what I was used to. It turns out the bike share bikes are heavy upright cruisers with fat tires, step-through frames and seven gears. I’m used to commuting on a more high-performance lightweight 24-gear road bike, so I got a much more of a workout on this ride than usual. I don’t know what I was expecting – it makes sense now that the bikes would be heavy duty to prevent wear and tear, and use a classic design geared toward people of all ages and shapes. You can’t really go too fast on them – I was mostly in 6th and 7th gear during the entire ride, and I could have easily used an 8th gear if it had one. The folks behind the program probably took safety in mind – you don’t want these bikes to reach racing speed.
Toward the end of my ride, it started to get a bit dusky and I began to see other cyclists with their lights on. I looked around for a switch on my bike, when suddenly the front and rear lights came on by themselves. Obviously there is some kind of light sensor built in. The bike stations are solar powered, so that means the bikes are too, which is pretty cool.
Finally I reached the end of my ride, which took almost the allotted half hour, as my ride was slower than usual. All I had to do was back into an empty spot in the station and I was done. There is an app that tells you how many bikes and how many empty spots are at each station, so you know what the situation is like before you arrive.
It was a nice night, so I decided to walk the rest of the way to my destination, which added on another 15 minutes.
One thing I would do differently next time is adjust the seat. It turns out it would have been fairly simple to do. More height would have given me more pedaling power and perhaps a bit faster and more comfortable ride.
I also had been wondering if San Francisco would see something like they’re experiencing in New York, where people are using the bikes heavily on weekend nights to go bar hopping. But now I don’t think that seems likely, at least for now, because of where the stations are located. There are no stations in the Mission, the Castro, Lower Haight, Polk Street or Marina/Cow Hollow, for example. Plus I don’t think I could have reached the Castro, for example, from my work, in the allotted half hour.
Still, all in all, I enjoyed it and I’d do it again in a pinch when I would otherwise have had to ride Muni… especially on the way home, since the locations are more convenient in that direction.