B-Cycle offers the possibility of turn-key bike share in Austin
Posted Oct 28 2010 1:01pm
Yesterday, bike share company B-Cycle stopped in Austin to demo their kiosk style, self-serve bike rental system. Their demo was part of a City of Austin initiative to investigate creating a public bike share program in Austin. Currently, City staff participate in an employee only bike share program, but the 2009 Master Bike Plan calls for a citywide bike share program by 2020.
I stopped by to test ride the B-Cycle fleet bike and had a chance to speak with Jason McDowell, the Projects and Logistics Manager at B-Cycle. The bikes themselves are Trek’s adaptation of the comfy, upright Dutch city bike design with internal gearing, dynamo powered lights, fenders, front rack, and chain guard. The cushy seat uses a quick release to allow virtually all adults to ride and the step through frame allows easy on and off. The integrated front rack includes a built in cable lock for security at stops. McDowell told me that heavier duty U-locks, frame locks, and chains were deemed not necessary as the locking system in the kiosks are much more robust than any standard bike lock.
Unfortunately, the carrying capacity of the bike is limited with only the front rack with 20 pounds so while you might run to lunch on a B-Cycle you are probably not doing grocery shopping on it. My only other gripe is the use of the 3 speed internal hub versus a 7 or 8 speed. While this is a fine setup in flat cities like Chicago (where B-Cycle recently expanded from their start in Denver), the additional range of these higher gear systems is appreciated in hillier terrain. I’m guessing this can be customized depending on what city B-Cycle is operating in.
The coolest part of B-Cycle is their bike kiosks. Topped with the iconic bicycle logo and powered by solar panels, the kiosk has a series of stalls that hold the available bikes. Either swipe your member card or get a $5 day member pass with a credit card on the kiosk, and the stall unlocks making your bike ready to ride. Members get the first 30 minutes free and are then charged a small usage fee after that starting with around $1 for the first hour and up to $65 for the whole day. Helmets are encouraged but not required and are not included for sanitary and safety reasons.
When you are done, you simply return the bike to one of the B-Cycle kiosks and you are done. Unlike traditional car sharing (but similar to Car2Go ) you can return the bike to any kiosk, not just the one you checked the bike our from so one way trips are possible.
B-Cycle is currently up and running in Denver with 500 bikes at 50 stations and Chicago with 100 bikes at 6 stations. They are expanding to other communities including San Antonio in the coming months. McDowell said the user base is a mix of people who live in the area using it for errands, commuters using the bikes to get to lunch or an appointment, and tourists who want a bike for the day. Since the barrier to entry is so low at only $5 for the day membership, the system allows people to dip their toe in bicycling for transportation without having to buy a bike.
B-Cycle has also learned from other vehicle sharing programs to build the system for success. McDowell said they only set up B-Cycle in neighborhoods where the density and usage patterns make sense, and they put lots of bikes on the ground with many stations so there is pretty much always a bike available. From my own experience starting up Austin CarShare, this psychology of availability is critical in getting people to buy into the concept of vehicle sharing.
I was impressed with the bikes, their system, and pricing. While I’m not totally sold on the value of bike sharing versus its potential impact at this stage, I’ll admit I’d really enjoy having something like B-Cycle in town and seeing all the bike share bikes on the road.