I was burning with jealousy: New York and Paris have amazing bike share programs. Where was San Francisco's? Isn't this the most progressive city in the country? Why weren't we using up precious parking spots and inspiring rants from important old people? I shouldn't have worried. Last week, my dream came true.
San Francisco now has a bike share program like those in DC, London, and other world-class cities. Bay Area Bike Share launched on August 29, 2013 with
350 700 bikes placed around downtown SF, San Jose, and a few other cities in between.
I could hardly sleep the night before. I felt like a kid on Christmas. I couldn't wait to see all the shiny new bikes and try one out for myself.
It's easy to rent a bike. At the automated kiosk, it takes a couple minutes to get through the check-out process. You have to confirm that you're 18 or over, as well as accept some sort of legal responsibility for yourself. I don't know. I just wanted to ride.
Once you pay with a credit or debit card, the machine spits out a little ticket with a 5 digit code. This is what you use to unlock your chosen steed. When I tried it out, all the bikes were brand new. But now that the program has been live for a while, you'll want to give the bike a once-over before taking it out:
- Check the tires by giving them a squeeze. Don't take a bike with a flat.
- Make sure you can adjust the seat. Sometimes the seat post will slip while you're riding. Very disconcerting.
- Test the brakes. Give them a squeeze too. If they feel loose, pick another bike.
These bikes don't come with locks since you're meant to dock them at designated stations only. They are built for short trips. But I wanted to get a feel for the bike, so I went on a five mile loop.
It's basically a tank, weighing in around 45 pounds. Definitely not a fast bike. So slow that I couldn't keep up with the Green Wave on Valencia Street unless I really pushed hard. Top speed on flat ground is probably around 13 miles per hour. But this is a good thing. The bike share is made for inexperienced and infrequent bike riders. A slower speed means more time for the rider to react to obstacles.
The wide wheel base makes it easy to balance. The upright posture of the step-through frame means that you have a lot of visibility. The steering is engineered to take wide turns. It's a safety feature that prevents a wobbly rider from placing their front wheel at a 90-degree angle to the frame and going over the handlebars.
In a nod to San Francisco's notorious hills, these bikes come with a seven-speed internally-geared hub, rather than the standard three-speed. The lowest gear is great. I was able to bike up a steep hill from a dead stop with no problem. Didn't even need to stand on the pedals.
Front and rear flashing LED lights switch on while you're pedaling, day or night. The front basket comes with a bungee cord loop, but doesn't have sides. It's a clever design that adds versatility. Unlike a traditional front basket, it will fit bags, parcels,
and surfboards of varying widths.
But make sure your purse is secure before you leave! Somehow my soft-sided sack slipped out of the front basket and I rolled right over it. My heart skipped a beat. But I was lucky and didn't do any damage. Precious iPhone, you're safe!
Most importantly, these bikes are pretty. The two shades of blue make for a handsome color scheme. I was a little disappointed that they weren't International Orange, but as a couple other riders have pointed out, these bikes are for the whole Bay Area, not just for San Francisco.
Nearly 3,000 Bay Area Bike Share memberships have been sold. Over the next three to six months, the region plans to increase the size of the fleet to 1,000 bikes.