It’s hard not to notice the Bay Area Bike Sharing invasion throughout downtown and surrounding districts. The sea foam colored bikes can be seen in their formations at each station and also gliding about throughout the city’s many bike friendly thoroughfares. We at SFHog decided to take one of these carbon footless wheeled transporters out for a test spin.
When we approached the 3rd and Howard bike base station we had already visited the Bay Area Bike Share website to locate the nearest well bike stocked base station. As expected, many bikes were available and awaiting their temporary masters. A nearby kiosk guided us through the purchasing process. Despite the ease of use of the menu structure the touch screen was far from iPhone worthy requiring several finger presses to initiate button clicks and menu selections. For our test drive we selected the 24 hour day pass option however we were also presented with 3 day and yearly membership options as well. Although there was a glitch where the bike release passcode didn’t work as expected the overall process was relatively straightforward and a short uneventful affair.
Removing the bike from it’s dock seemed somewhat clunky but we expected seasoned bike share veterans to better understand a quicker detach and release method. Once we made our seat height adjustments we were on our way throughout the bike happy streets of downtown. The chunky tires, solid frame and cushiony seat easily absorbed gravel and pits in the street pavement and made for a Cadillac like ride. However, the same weightiness that gave us a smooth ride also made it an effort to walk the bike over curbs, other low obstructions and decreased riding maneuverability.
During our ride we soon realized that the 30 minutes time limit to get to another base station was rather limiting and required us to stay within the confines of the surrounding area that contained other base stations. The over limit penalty of $4 and $7 is a bit steep and might turn off some prospective riders. The short time limit also marginalizes the bike’s overall usefulness by reducing the ride area and requiring riders to be aware of nearby base stations and have a solid idea of their destinations. As a result, these bikes are not for wandering tourists who want to take in the city and meander at their own leisure.
The bike sharing program can only be successful if there are plenty of base stations around for drop offs and pickups. Bike Share riders in downtown cannot venture off to Mission, Bernal Heights and any other outer districts as they would be steeply penalized for going over the aforementioned time limit. Questions still remain on how far the base stations can spread past downtown. Would the traditional San Franciscan neighbors in areas such as Inner Sunset, Inner Richmond and other resident heavy districts draw exceptions to base stations outside their doorsteps? Would the bluish green bikes distract from San Francisco’s exceptional architecture and natural landscapes in many of these areas?
Towards the end of our journey there was also a glitch where we tried to pickup a bike within the same 24 hour period but the system told us we exceeded our daily limit of bike withdrawals. However, a quick call to the display support number resolved the issue and we were back out riding to our next destination.
Overall, we liked the simple purchase process and the smooth ride of the sturdy bikes. However, we were mixed on the overall utilitarian look of the bikes and the short time limit we were given between base station docks. In addition, we realized the paradoxical issues arising between the need to proliferate the base stations throughout the city to ensure the program’s bike sharing success while preserving the aesthetic urban landscape of the city and protecting resident’s privacy. For more information visit: http://www.bayareabikeshare.com/.