Bay Area Bike Share: We Give it a Test-Ride
|Your un-hot rod awaits. Just please bring a helmet.|
San Francisco denizens can access cycles from a couple dozen stations clustered, heavily, in the FiDi, with outposts in the Design District, CalTrain station, and Pier 27 (America's Cup, anyone? Anyone?). Nine bucks buys you 24 hours of bike access (or $88 for a whole year), but here's the rub: You can't have any one bicycle for more than 30 minutes without incurring overtime fees. SF Weekly's Ian Port and Joe Eskenazi ponied up for a pair of bicycles and squired them about town. Here's the best and the worst of it:
The Good: If you're worried that these turquoise two-wheelers eerily resemble the balloon-tired behemoth you rented in Santa Monica that time, relax -- they're far more practical than a beach cruiser. Yes, as we note below, they're hefty. And, yes, the steering is slow (at least if you're used to a twitchy road bike; another word for it might be "predictable"). But the upshot of all this is a well-equipped, easy ride.
|Did you remember to bring a chain?|
Intuitively, it makes sense that the target clientele for a bikeshare program wouldn't be hardcore cyclists. Hardcore cyclists have their own bicycles. Some even have a few. So, Bay Area Bike Share is catering to folks who likely don't regularly pilot a bike in the vicinity of Market Street -- where the vast majority of the stations are located. This is the very area that the city's own assessments rate as dangerous and accessible only for experienced, even "daring" riders. Again: No helmets provided.
The 44-pound bikes composing the new services's fleet are heavy and ungainly even for experienced riders. You will not be able to accelerate your way out of a problem. You can't get them going very quickly -- but you can't get them slowed down particularly quickly either.
In short, sending inexperienced riders into the dark heart of Market Street, helmetless, on awkward bicycles reads like a recipe for disaster.
Once you get beyond that, barring a rapid expansion, the system's business model isn't readily apparent. It's easy enough to swipe a credit card and pedal off -- but, with only half an hour before fines rack up, you do need to know where you're going. And unless you're toting around a U-Lock, you're not leaving that bike unattended for very long (a $101 deposit is placed on your card and it'll run you $1,200 if you lose the cycle). The only practical use for this service is a series of quick, one-way trips.
|Don't dawdle! Thirty minutes goes fast!|
Also: Why no stations in the Mission -- the most bike-friendly part of town? Riding from Downtown along the Valencia corridor would be a natural option.
We'll end at the beginning. The bike station we went to was serving double duty as a station for at least three different panhandlers -- which could present challenges down the road. We had to run our credit card through the machine several times, and were left with a lingering dread that we'd been double-billed (we weren't. We think.).
Coda: While the two-wheeled core of the Bay Area's new bikeshare program is adequate -- offering well-equipped, if not performance-friendly, bikes -- the implementation so far leaves much to be desired (and fretted over). The program so far seems the rough equivalent of the many quirky former businesses once dotting San Francisco that everyone loved the idea of -- but not enough to patronize.