Wouldn’t it be great to ride a bike this weekend? To take a leisurely ride along the river, or check out the local farmer’s market without the hassle of searching for a parking space? But buying a bike could set you back a few hundred dollars, and there’s always the issue of finding space to store it.
If you live in a growing number of metropolitan areas, even if you don’t own a bike, you may be able to ride one — through a bike share program.
Bike sharing is an environmentally friendly, affordable, and convenient program that has been popular in Europe for decades. Now, many metropolitan areas of the US are following suit, offering cheap bike rentals from bike docking stations throughout many cities.
It basically works like car sharing. (To see our post on car sharing programs such as Zipcar, click here.) You join the bike share group for a fee, get a card that lets you check out a bike at one of many bike stations in the area, and return the bicycle to any bike station in the program. You pay a usage fee based upon the length of time you have the bike.
An example is the Fort Worth, Texas program, which is funded with both private and public money. It has a network of 30 bike share docking stations throughout the central city areas of Ft. Worth, with about 300 bikes available for use. Members get cards that allow them to check out bikes from any station and return them to any station. GPS and radiofrequency identification technologies let the program track where the bikes are located, and a smart phone app includes a city map showing the docking stations and the availability of bikes at various locations. Ft. Worth membership terms run from one day (24 hours for $8 ) to one year ($80). Beyond membership, you pay according to bike usage: the first 30 minutes are free, the second 30 minutes cost $1.50, and additional 30-minute increments are $3.
There are bike share programs in all parts of the US, as well as Canada. Here is a sampling of some US bike share programs:
- Boston’s Hubway
- Denver Bike Sharing
- Minneapolis Nice Ride
- New York City’s Citi Bike
- Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare ( includes Virginia suburbs)
- San Francisco’s Bay Area Bike Share (opening summer 2013)
- Chicago’s Divvy program
- The program probably does not offer bike helmets – check ahead and plan accordingly.
- If you plan to park the bike other than at another bike station, be sure to bring a lock.
- Bikes rented are generally basic, good for relatively short trips. Don’t expect fancy racing bikes.
- As with car sharing, you must have a credit card that will be associated with the bike share program.
- Be sure to read the program rules. For example, what happens when you damage the bike? What if the station where you plan to return the bike is already full?
- Check on whether the program has a mobile app.
- Be sure to have a map showing locations of bike stations.
- Do a search on your bike share program to see whether it is experiencing issues. Most are working quite smoothly, but some, such as New York’s program, have been reported to have some technical issues.