About a year ago, I wrote a post on how a mini velo style bike is a great bike for urban living. Well, I changed my mind…it’s not just great- it’s actually the perfect urban city bike!
After moving to Oakland, we were confronted with a new set of conditions. First of all, the streets in downtown have way too many traffic lights for bicyclists. The stop and go momentum makes it harder to ride a full-sized bike. This is where mini velo excels. Its small 20 inch wheels with a lower rotational mass overcomes this problem. It makes it easier to start and stop.
Very often living in a city, the weight of what you ride/carry to run multiple errands affects your overall experience. Picture yourself locking up your bike several times to different bike racks and also having to lift up the bike from the street level onto the sidewalk. It can get pretty cumbersome. What about those times that you forget to bring your u-lock (or u-lock key). Well, with the mini velo, it is small enough to just bring with you into the shop.
BART is a great public transit option in Oakland. There are 8 stations and it covers the city pretty well, but the few elevators they have are tiny and escalators (bikes supposedly are not allowed on them) are super narrow. Many times, carrying your bike down the stairs is the only the option. So, carrying a smaller bike down the stairs and maneuvering a compact bike into a crowded area helps a great deal.
Moreover, the bike infrastructure in Oakland is relatively bad. You have bike lanes disappearing and even bike sharrows that disappear suddenly. Sometimes, the bike sharrows are in the door zone. And one way streets are common. As you know, it is an obstacle course for cyclists. Sidewalks clearly are not the place for bikes; but when it’s a one way street or you feel your life is on the line, I have to admit I do sometimes ride on the sidewalks (certainly at a very slow speed and where pedestrians are almost absent). Riding on a smaller bike such as the mini velo feels like you are not intruding as much into the pedestrian space.
Nellie and I moved into another place that doesn’t have nearly enough indoor bike racks in the garage and keeping your bike indoors makes a huge difference to how long your bike stays in good condition (and clean). Thus, we have to store our bikes in our unit. Size does matter. Also, I used to have an office space that a full-sized bike wouldn’t fit, but with a mini velo, of course!
In addition to riding in the city, she wants a bike that she can go for a long distance ride sometimes. None of her current bikes meet all of these criteria in one bike. So, Nellie decided to give the mini velo a try on a long ride. We just did a 30 miles/48 km ride, and Nellie wasn’t a bit tired. She said it’s the best bike she’s ever had.
Here are the specs and comments for the Biria Mini-20:
- Aluminum alloy frame and fork. After a long 20 miles/32 km ride, it can be harsh on your wrists because shock is not as well absorbed. But going just around town, you won’t notice it. Remember, city streets in America are poorly maintained so this is not a factor if you live in the suburbs or on foreign soil where there is good infrastructure. The good thing about aluminum is that it’s pretty light at 22 lbs (under 10 kg).
- 51 cm (c-t) frame, one size only. Nellie’s 5 ft 3 in/160 cm tall and there’s only 5mm to go at the minimum at the seat post. I’m 5 ft 8 in/173 cm and I can still fit, however, I need a longer stem. The great thing about mini velo is that it really can be ridden by a male or a female.
- Two choices of colors for the Biria: matte black or nickel silver. Nellie had the black one and it’s a nice color in person. Very chic and stylish.
- Tektro Tenera brakes and calipers. Good, solid and soft brakes.
- 20 x 1 1/8 CST tires. They are heavy and cheap, and prone to punctures. We immediately changed them out. The narrow size of tires helps reduce the high rolling resistance from small wheels.
- SRAM X-7 rear derailleur and SRAM X-5 shifters. The shifters are easy to shift with just your thumbs, but it’s a bit slow (not a problem if you’re not racing). Nellie’s bike is 2012 and the current model comes with Shimano 105 rear derailleur, and with 27 speeds (18 speeds for the 2012 model).
- Prowheel Chariot crankset (53/39T). Other than it’s made in China and provides a standard range, I don’t have any comment here.
- Saddle, grips and pedals. The saddle is very narrow at 35 cm wide , and it was immediately replaced with a woman’s saddle. The pedals are horrendously small and one sided only, and was also immediately changed. The grips are fine.
- Joy Tech hubs with Joy Tech quick releases. The quick release wheels and seat post makes it a good storage bike. Surprisingly, it really can fit into our Scion IQ with both wheels removed.
The current model retails at $900, which is not a bad price. Overall, the bike feels solid, more solid than any bike I have ridden. It is zippy and stops on a dime. I could see why these type of bikes are so popular in cities in Asia. I may have to get one for myself in the future.
I passed by and discovered this bike shop called Bay Area Bikes at 2424 Webster St. when I was going to a car rental nearby. It is ironically situated in an area (Auto Row in Oakland) that is filled with car dealerships. Stick it to them, Bay Area Bikes! When I walked in and spoke with Clay who owns the place with his wife, Glenda, I knew this shop was for me. They are great people who believe in making the community livable through biking, and they carry quality bikes because they don’t believe in “race to the bottom prices”. They have bikes and accessories that I really like and they appear to carry bikes for everyday folks, in addition to performance bikes.
Here is a review from a friend, Kristen, that I think says it all about Clay and his bike shop. One day on the ferry to work, I told her about Bay Area Bikes, and she said, “That’s where I got my bike!” She said that at first, she went to at least 4 to 5 shops all over Oakland and everyone ignored her completely. I have always felt that bike shops intimidate women, particularly women that are buying a bike for the first time, and Kristen is in this category. Most shops carry mostly performance bikes, the employees are usually men, and the way the bike shop looks exudes masculinity. But this particular shop is different from the norm.
These words were taken from our conversation: “When I got to Bay Area Bikes, I was immediately greeted and treated with respect. I had no idea what I needed or wanted, other than a good-for-commuting bike that wouldn’t hurt my back. They suggested a Tern folding bike, demonstrated to me, and let me try out the bike, but I still wasn’t sure if it would hurt my back. They then recommended me to go rent one for a day at their Bay Area Bike Rentals in Jack London Square, but then a friend let me borrow one for a whole week. So I tried it and and went back to Bay Area Bikes.” She got everything from them, from a bike helmet and lock to a commute bag and her dear Tern Link D7i folding bike. She says that through the whole process “everyone was friendly and helpful, and to this day every time I go in for a service (or yet another accessory) they are just as nice and easy to work with, and they never talk down to me.” A great recommendation from a new devoted customer!
There are four locations of Bay Area Bikes now. One is in Pittsburg and the other three are in Oakland. One is a bike rental in JLS as I mentioned earlier; the second is in Uptown and carries commuter and performance bikes. The newest shop just opened about a month ago at 2509 Broadway and 25th Street, which sits in between an Ethiopian restaurant and Smythe’s Accordion Center (yes…that folksy instrument, accordion!). It’s a nice and niche bike shop.
Why do I like this shop particularly? They are the only Brompton authorized dealership in town and secondly, they fill a niche that most bike shops don’t. Furthermore, they sell great quality bikes: Tern and Brompton folding bikes, Swiss-made Stromer e-bikes, Oakland-based Xtracycle and Yuba cargo bikes, and nice accessories to go with the bikes. The target here is for everyday cycling with utility in mind. And any woman stepping into this shop is not going to shy away. They carry stylish bags and an equal number of bikes for females and males, which reflects the almost equal gender split of ridership in Oakland.
Finally, when you talk to Clay, you will certainly feel like you bought the right bike because he only carries bikes that he believes in. Moreover, he has immense knowledge of his bikes and is happy to share his knowledge with you. He knows every little detail about the bikes he carries and can make an informed opinion for you if you like. Oh, his wife Glenda is super patient and I am glad for once there’s a woman working in a bike shop.
If you have a love for Bromptons like I do, this is the place to go to!
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was really ecstatic about the implementation of the Bay Area Bike Share (BABS) and I think it is a sign that bicycles are less marginalized in SF than previously. Having the bike shares lends great legitimacy to the whole bicycle movement. It’s not just obligatory bike lanes going down. Now, the city is backing and putting actual bikes on the road.
Just riding this bike around town branded with its official Bay Area Bike Share logos, I feel that I get more respect from motorists. Now if these anti-cyclists get angry at us like they often do, while riding these bike shares they would be putting the blame on the city too. We’re no longer fringe outcasts in the mean streets of SF. We are now officially backed by the government, consummated in the coolness of a celeste green color.
Right on the day it was launched, Nellie and I couldn’t wait to get on one. We had tried City Bikes in Copenhagen and it was a terrible system, but of course it was implemented in 1995. My workplace has a free bike share system but it is rarely used due to its campus location on hills. So, I was hoping for a better overall system.
We just wanted to test out the bikes so we got the 24 hours pass. The 24 hours or 3 days pass is inconvenient because you would have to buy it at the kiosk, not online. You would have to first to stick your credit card to purchase, it gives you a 5 digit code on a small piece of paper, and enter it into the keypad on the rack. Then you have five minutes to pull out a bike from the docking station (if you don’t undock your bike within the grace period, repeat the process), then when you want to get a new bike at the next kiosk you would have to do the process all over again. I thought it was annoying. However if you purchase the one year membership of only $88, you just swipe the key fob (which they mailed to you) over the keypad and you get the bike instantly.
So we set up a test ride around South of Market (SOMA) to get lunch, errands, shopping and dinner in the end. We got the bikes at Townsend and 4th St kiosk across from the the Caltrain station, and rode toward the Embarcadero because that was the safest route to get to Financial District for lunch. It took us 25 minutes to get to the kiosk at Market and Battery St close to Specialty’s, our lunch place. On the way there, we passed 5 other stations!
It was a little exhaustive pedaling the 50 lbs (23 kg) clunky bikes for 25 minutes but it was very comfortable. They absorbed shocks very well from cracked pavements and potholes. We felt safe riding them, even without helmets. It’s probably due to a few reasons; the upright position you’re sitting provides a better all around view of the surrounding; the stability of the bike from the weight and fat tires; high visibility from the bright celeste green color; and the bike can’t go that fast. These bikes should fit anyone from 5 ft (1.5 m) to over 6 ft (1.83 m) tall. Moreover, I like that the seat post has markings on it to help adjust the next bike you rent to your specific height quickly.
The nice thing is that we just dock the bikes without having to find a pole (bike racks are rare in the Financial District) to lock them. We walked 2 small blocks to get lunch at Specialty’s. That was a nice one hour lunch and felt pretty relief that we didn’t have to worry about leaving them outside. When we were done, we walked another small 2 blocks to get to another kiosk at Market and Sansome St. We stick our credit cards into the machine to get the 5 digits code again to get the bikes. That is about the only hassle we experienced all day – swiping our credit cards to get the 5 digits code and entering on the keypads.
Then we rode for a few blocks to Union Square for shopping. We docked the bikes at Market and 4th St. We usually don’t take our bikes to Union Square because of bad experiences. I have two friends that got their saddles stolen. Also in our first few months living in SF our bikes were stolen in the vicinity, albeit we used cable locks. Even though now we have u-locks, but we still don’t want to take any chance.
After shopping we walked to Howard and 3rd St to get some photos for this blog. We wanted to get some cool looking people and their bikes going home from a long day’s work. Howard St is a one way thoroughfare going from east to west, and it has a high volume of bicycle commuters. Then we rented the bike again to get dinner at Tin’s (our favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the city). It was pretty cool to ride down on Howard St with a bunch of bike commuters.
Tin’s is located on Howard between 5th and 6th and guess what, a BABS kiosk was nearby. Wonderful! Dropped off the bike at Howard and 5th St, and walked half a block. After dinner it got dark, so we returned to the same station, picked up the bikes and rode almost 2 miles (3.2 km) home passing one other bike share station on the way.
It was such an easy and pleasant experience with the bike shares at our finger tips. Most bike share stations are located in SOMA (and Market St.) which I think is wonderful. SOMA is such a large neighborhood with some sketchy areas and shops/eateries that are located far apart. Walking could be long and dangerous, so bike shares help in these kind of situations. Moreover, these bikes are available 24/7 any time you need to be transported. You can’t count on taxis and buses during odd hours. Now you may not need to buy a new bike since these bikes are available. It’s almost like you have your own bike but without any maintenance to worry about. Pretty cool, eh!
Even though we didn’t encounter many issues with the system as would be expected at its start, the BABS system can certainly be improved. Here are some of the things that may help:
- There must be a way for kids younger than 18 y.o. to use them besides having their parents or guardians be around to borrow them for them.
- I find the process of checking out bikes for the short-term 24 hour or 3 day memberships to be inconvenient as I explained above. Since it’s part of the public transit system, I think it would be great to be able to use the Clipper card with it.
- Why do all bike shares weigh so much? Nellie has a hard time picking up the bike onto the sidewalk.
- Having a built-in lock would be a nice addition I think. What if you need to make a quick stop in between stations, like for a quick coffee? Maybe, a cup holder to go with your coffee?
- They should put a map near the handlebars visible from the seat of the bike that shows where the locations of the kiosks or a smartphone app to display availability of bikes.
- When they expand this next year, hopefully they will put a few stations in other neighborhoods such as the Mission District, Dog Patch, and Mission Bay.
- In addition to SF and the cities on the peninsula having bike share stations, Oakland should have them too!
More related posts:
I thought about how the street-scape of San Francisco can be not very interesting to look at especially when riding on a bicycle with full view and senses. Have you noticed that the colors of most of the vehicles resemble the same colors as the cement-paved sidewalks and the gray and dark colored asphalt on the road? Pretty dull right? It also doesn’t help that every street is filled with rows and rows of parked cars. Even MUNI buses and light rail trains feature in the same boring gray color. Although, I do enjoy looking at the vintage streetcars, they are not that ubiquitous around SF.
If the sidewalks are not paved with large square slabs of concrete (boring), it is paved with somber dark red bricks like those you can find on the sidewalks of Market St. Moreover, most of the building layouts are too perfectly rectangular and square and not made to human scale. Not pleasantly stimulating. Not to mention, this city needs more trees… large lush ones. And what about flowers? I think our city is beautiful but where are the flowers to complement it. Nonetheless, we do have beautiful views of the water and the rolling hills, but that depends upon where you are.
So, I thought I would try to seek out some bright-colored bikes in SF, being that this blog is about bikes. I chose pink bikes because it is difficult to spot anything pink these days besides dresses for bride’s maids and clothing for baby girls. That sort of stuff you know. By sharing images of pink bikes maybe it can help more people visualize how pink would look on bikes; and if someone could see how cool pink is for a bike, they might have the courage to buy not just a pink bike but more colorful bikes in general. Hopefully, with enough of them on the streets, it would make the street-scape a little more colorful and interesting to ride in.
I am not just talking about pink Hello Kitty bikes. That would be too expected.
The pink bar tape matches the beautifully welded pink aluminum frame.
White and pink complement each other.
I have seen a couple of these PUBLIC step-through bikes around town. Lovely!
I think the dog wants to run with this cool looking pink Bianchi vintage steel bike.
I love Mixte frames, even better in pink color!
You could see this pink Townie blowing out bubbles at every social bike event in the city.
This is probably the best looking fixie in San Francisco.
And pink can also look good on a Brompton folding bike. It is pink and definitely hot!
Be bold and choose pink!
In a past post, I discussed how e-bikes can assist people who live on San Francisco hills and that there is a variety of different styles for just about anybody. Now I want to introduce you to the “mini velo” which I think can be another perfect city bike for SF.
These mini bikes are very popular in Japan, South Korea, and some other Asian countries. You can see in this video which mini velo and folding bikes are celebrated in this annual event in Japan. They are popular there because their living spaces are small, the urban environment is very dense, and their people tend to be more petite and have a smaller stature. But I don’t think having a smaller stature has that much to do with riding these mini bikes because folding bikes (sometimes even smaller than the mini velo) are pretty popular with all demographics around the world. Moreover, many frame sizes vary from 47 cm to 55 cm, big enough to fit a 6 footer.
I have tested two mini velo bikes- one from SOMA Fab and another called Mercier Nano. Both are extremely fun, comfortable, and shifting with their retro shifters was simple. They are zippy and can stop on a dime.
A friend of mine commutes to work with the Mercier Nano about 12 miles one way and occasionally takes public transit with it. Because the bike is smaller than a standard bike, they are easier to take onto transit.
This bike is very affordable at just under $300 USD from bikesdirect.com.
You might ask, “Why not get a folding bike instead of a mini velo?” The difference is very apparent. Many folding bikes also come with 20″ wheels identical to mini velo’s, but the difference lies within the frame. Because mini velo is not foldable (no break in the frame and neck) they don’t flex. Rather it’s pretty stiff and it gives you a softer bounce when going over bumps. When you are climbing hills or riding over long distances, folding bikes start to flex more than you would like. Secondly, the handlebar is of the same width as a regular sized one so it’s more comfortable and easier to handle than a folder. Finally, the drivetrain components are of the same as a 700c bikes. This may explain why I feel like the mini velo rides closer to a regular bike than a folding bike. They are lighter than folding bikes too, another advantage. Because many of the components are identical to a regular size bike, you can obtain it at most bike shops or online stores. Accessories are similar too. For example, you can mount a Wald basket on the SOMA Fab Mini Velo. And yes, they are cheaper than average folding bikes as well as regular size bikes.
Because they are in the low 20 lbs (9.1 kg) and under 4.5 ft (140 cm) long, they are easy to carry up stairs, turn corners through narrow hallways and can probably fit into the space next to your apartment door. On a crowded train such as the BART, you needn’t be afraid of hitting your fellow passenger with it. Don’t worry about the front rack of a MUNI bus because it can accommodate 20″ wheel bikes. And with the front wheel off (install quick release skewer if it doesn’t come with one), it will fit nicely in a trunk of a moderate-sized car.
The only thing people may feel adverse to about the mini velo is the awkward geometry of the frame, but I am sure that feeling will go away once people see it more frequently and get used its looks. I now find it to be very cute with a few retro elements thrown in like the frame, the quill stem, and the shifters.
As I have researched to find them here in the States, I found only four brands that are available here: SOMA Fab (discontinued, 2014), Mercier Nano, Biria, and Big Shot. Big Shot makes them for bike polo. I think it’s a great bike for the sport.
I hope they do become more popular so there will be more different brands offered here.
Anyhow, here are some that I found throughout Asia:
Celeste green chromoly frame with 16 spds from Bianchi. It weighs in at 23 lbs (10.8 kg) and costs about $640 USD.
This classic purple mini velo with Mixte frame from Montebello costs about $305 USD at Rakuten Global Market.
This is a cute one. It comes in pretty small sizes at 47 cm and 50 cm Tange frameset with 3 speeds internal hub at $545 USD.
The one above is a 2013 pink Bruno 20 designed by the Swiss. It comes with sizes from 47 cm to 54 cm and 16 speeds for $750 USD. If you like pastel colors, this brand has them.
GIOS Panto is a mini replica of a road bike. It comes with Shimano Tiagra, chromoly frame with carbon fork and 18 speeds. It’s too bad it still weighs in at 21 lbs (9.7 kg) and comes in small sizes of 48 cm and 51 cm.
Who says mini velos are cute looking only? The one above is pretty mean looking. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any info on it (Bannard Poseidon, updated 6/14/14).
Well, I hope you consider one when you are looking for a new city bike.
San Francisco’s geography is less than 50 sq. miles and about half of that is filled with hills which can make getting to destinations difficult by bicycle. You are very limited in the ways you can go around by bike and communities are separated by hills and pockets of seedy areas. Our public transit system is fairly unreliable. People are practically forced to own cars due to the lack of quality and reliable alternative means of transport which makes our city less livable. Our population has been growing at 1% a year (that’s 8,000 people per year) and 40K new housing units are needed in SF over the next 5-10 years. Will we be able to accommodate all the new drivers in the streets of SF when space is already limited and the streets already congested? We live in the greenest city with the most progressives in the country and it is unfortunate that we are not as far along in getting off our dependence on cars. We should all be getting out of our cars and riding our bikes whenever we can, if not walking or taking transit, but we still have quite a way to go in addressing the things that keep us from doing so.
We have a prediction though. While it is unclear if San Francisco will actually reach its goal of 20% of trips made by bicycle by 2020, we see that biking in SF is only going to become truly mainstream if we can find a way to get all those people who live on hills to bike. Perhaps the infrastructure will eventually take care of itself, perhaps attitudes about biking will get better, but the hills will always be there. Getting all the people who live on those hills to bike would be like, well… moving mountains.
But leave it to tech savvy San Franciscans to find a high tech solution. E-bikes are bikes which are assisted by electricity and they give you a boost while riding. While e-bikes were not invented here, we can see the folks of San Francisco quickly appreciating their virtues. Most of all, they making biking up hills practically effortless.
E-bikes have been around for some time now, but the models on the market today are better than they were years ago. They are pricey (prices can range from $1,500 all the way to $4,000+), but we believe that over time, owning an e-bike could prove to be advantageous and worth the money. Gas prices will continue to rise and available car parking in the city is increasingly becoming more limited with the few spots that are left ferociously competed for. Owning a car will become less convenient for trips within the city. Bike infrastructure is also improving, albeit slowly, but any improvement will make riding bikes easier and that helps e-bike owners capture more utility for their investment.
We aren’t completely sure this is what will happen. But we predict that if mainstream adoption of bicycling is going to happen, it will happen with the e-bike. Here is a great article on “the future of city travel” by Momentum magazine.
Of course, the other factors have to fall into place to create a tipping point but at this point we are hopeful.
SF is one of the most scenic cities in the world and us cyclists are missing out on experiencing many of its beautiful gems by bicycle because they are up in the hills. We cannot reach them unless we have thighs of steel. But say no more. With e-bikes we can experience them whenever we like. So, let’s e-bike!
Below are some of the amazing things you can see if you can get up those hills and the experience is so much better when you are outside on a bike than in the steel cage of a car.
Here are some of the e-bikes that are currently on the market except for Farady Porteur which is launching in a couple of months. There is an e-bike for everybody, I mean literally for everybody.
Faraday Porteur is a classic designed e-bike for the well-dressed. It is light weight for an e-bike at 39 lbs. (17.7 kg) and has an 8 speed hub with a 195 Wh battery that can give you a 15-20 miles (24-32 km) range. This one is made right here in the SF Bay Area.
The counterpart of the classic Farady Porteur is this futuristic-looking Smart e-bike. It has a powerful Lithium ion battery of 423 Wh which means you can get up to 62 miles (100 km). It uses a carbon belt drive that reduces maintenance.
Italwin Prestige Elite step-thru for the ladies with dresses or not. It comes in an aluminum frame with 7 speed gears, powered by a 200 W motor and an assisted range of 37 miles (60 km).
If you like the Italwin design and you are a guy, here’s one for you called Eagle Elite with similar specs as the Prestige Elite.
What about a beach cruiser? Yes, there is such a thing as a cruiser with a battery. It is called a Cruiser Lithium from Italwin.
From the land of cargo bikes, Copenhagen, Denmark, TrioBike Mono E (also comes with more cargo space in the Boxter E model). Mono E has a 250 W motor, disc brakes, 7 speed, and a riding range of up to 56 miles. The nice thing about it is that it comes in almost 1,300 color combinations from the seats in the cargo to the seat on the trioBike.
If you are a beginner or want a fitness bike, here is the Cannondale Quick 3. With Cytronex technology, 1.5 hours of charge will help you go 20 miles (32 km). It is simply a hybrid bike with 18 speeds and you can use the assisted power if you want by just pressing the Boost button. Guess where is the battery located? If you answered the bottle, you are correct!
Above is mountain e-bike, GT Transeo 4.0 that has similar technology to the Cannondale Quick 3.
Okay, you ask me, “Why do road e-bikes even exist?” Maybe the rider wants to challenge a pro cyclist? This Cannondale Super Six has all the best components of a road bike (full carbon frame set, Dura Ace groupset, etc.) and comes in at 28 lbs (12.7 kg), the lightest e-bike around. Check out this fun video.
All the modern technology you can think of is packed in this transit commuter’s GoCycle G2R folding e-bike. The G2R has a fuel gauge on the handlebar, 3-speed electronic shifting, hydraulic disc brakes, a riding distance of 40 miles (64 km), and a magnesium frame that makes this e-bike almost as light as any regular folding bike at 34.3 lbs (15.6 kg). For more info, watch this video.
If none of the above interests you because you prefer to electrify your own bike or just have an electric motored trailer (Ridekick) connected to the rear wheel, that is also possible. There is one full service e-bike shop located in the city (The New Wheel) that can help you with installation. So San Francisco, let’s e-bike!
About a month ago, we wrote a post about how the bikes in Copenhagen compare to bikes in San Francisco. We made the observation that Copenhagen has lots of Dutch style city bikes and quite a few cargo bikes. There are a number of “broke down bikes” too.
Why are there so many of these types of bikes there? Well, we can venture a guess. Dutch bikes are not only practical, but stylish too and Copenhagenites are certainly a fashionable bunch. Also, the city is very flat and easy to ride. The streets are safe for cyclists with some streets posting speed limits as low as 9 mph. That allows for easier usage of cargo bikes and therefore you can find lots of cargo bikes there (move over SUVs) transporting cargo and even small children. As for the “broke down bikes”- I am thinking that there are probably a few different reasons why they still ride such destitute contraptions, but the thing we want to point out is that the way the city accommodates cyclists enables people to safely ride even bikes which are not optimally functional.
You can get a sense of a city’s character and culture from bike watching. In San Francisco, due to the relatively poor cycling infrastructure, the ratio of men riding bikes to women is around 3:1. The men you see on bikes are generally young and fit and able to bravely navigate the rough streets. This also explains why road and hybrid bikes are popular. They allow for optimum performance and speed in a challenging environment with rough terrain. Trendy looking fixed gear bikes are popular with the younger set as well and there are quite a number of vintage road bikes from the 80’s. Occasionally, you’ll spot a folding bike from Dahon or Bike Friday (MUNI only allows folding bikes on their trains, BART doesn’t allow full sized bikes during rush hour) and some Dutch style city bikes such as those from PUBLIC and Linus. At this point in time, e-bikes are not very common, but we predict that for biking to become more widespread in SF, e-bikes will have to become the bike of choice for those people who live on top of SF’s famous steep hills and don’t want to break a sweat.
For those of you who enjoy people watching, you know firsthand that when you visit a new place you can expect the people there to look quite different. It doesn’t matter if the new city is across the ocean or just 400 miles south (ahem, Los Angeles), or even in another neighborhood (the Mission District vs. the Marina District). It isn’t just a racial thing, but also the way they dress, what they are generally doing as they pass, how they carry themselves and speak, and the facial expressions they wear that can be quite different. Even the smell can be distinctive (I’m thinking of Paris). Interestingly, despite the global market and the same bike brands being sold virtually everywhere, there also exists such a thing as bicycles of a certain place having a certain aesthetic.
For those of you who have not yet visited Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark and one of the two most bicycle friendly cities in the world, I’d like to ask you what you think the bicycles there would be like. I’ll tell you what I thought before I went back in the spring of 2011. I thought there would be, “Good looking and stylish people zipping around on equally good looking and stylish bikes.” Was I right?
Well, I was right about the good looking people part. As for the bikes, I was partially right. From what I observed, the bicycles of Copenhagen fall into four general categories (actually five if you count the bike share bicycles).
The first category does indeed include all their good looking bikes. Wow, there were beautiful bicycles there that I had never seen in my life that reflect the artistic expertise and eloquence of Danish designers. I’m thinking of the Avenue Cykler. I never knew such a bike could exist until I saw them in Copenhagen. They are not that common there but you do see them occasionally, and every time you do you have to stop and look and admire. That kind of bike would not last in San Francisco because if it doesn’t get stolen while locked somewhere, even with three U-locks, you will get held up at gun point while riding on it. It attracts way too much attention and is too noticeably expensive (and they are indeed expensive). It would be like bringing a unicorn into Satan’s lair- the horn is going to get cut off.
But, on the other hand, Copenhagen has some pretty broke down bikes too. They have bikes that are the equivalent of homeless people in SF. Derelict, rusted, dirty, hanging out on corners, and just hanging on. I have never seen so many rusted bikes in my life. Copenhagen is a clean and well-maintained city, for sure, so those bikes must be the most hopeless looking things in their town. But I think people actually still use them anyway. I actually respect that they don’t feel a need to throw out the old and will try to use the bike until the day it collapses beneath them. Then there are ones which have tried to live a new life and are spray painted a single color from one end to the other, wheels and all. They actually come out having some artistic aesthetic when they do that.
The third category of bikes are the most common. They include your typical city bikes with step through frames. They have a basket in the front and fenders. They don’t stand out very much and are usually red or black in color. They are practical and easy for every day use and I suspect they were imported from the Dutch.
Another group of bikes you will observe in Copenhagen are the cargo bikes. I actually loved seeing those and they make for the cutest Kodak moments because they will often have an adorable Danish child sitting inside while mommy or daddy pedals them around. The children are usually alert and like to look around at the scenery, pointing at things and making commentary. Sometimes there is also a cute family dog riding inside with the tot like a pair of best friends. Just too cute. I don’t think grown ups outgrow riding in those cargo bikes from time to time because I witnessed a mobile bridal shower celebration taking place using one. The bride-to-be was riding in a cargo bike box with a bridal veil on her head while her friend, probably her bestie, pedaled her up and down the streets of Copenhagen. Her entourage of friends were riding on their own bikes beside them ringing their bells and cheering and people were cheering them on as they passed.
Finally, bike shares make up the last category and they are actually pretty awful in my opinion. It is hard to get one, they are in such short supply and if you leave yours on the side and look away for a minute, it will be gone. It seems the social agreement there is that you can just grab one when you see it no matter who might be claiming it. They are also huge. Danes are tall and so if you are a petite person like me, forget about trying to mount one. They are heavy like a mother******. I use that word because riding their bike shares will probably make you utter those curses. They are sometimes broke down too and start to resemble those hopeless rusted bikes, as you will see in the photos below.
So here is the run down on bikes in Copenhagen: Lots of typical city bikes and broke down bikes, occasional nice bikes better than you’d see anywhere in SF, a decent number of cargo bikes, and some clunky bike shares. I want to emphasize that most bikes there are ordinary or broke down but when you do see a nice bike, it is really, really high-end and well designed.
SF on the other hand, doesn’t currently have extreme high-design bikes like the Avenue Cykler. The closest are PUBLIC bikes and some others, but while they are nice, they are still not at that level. There will be a highly-designed Faraday electric bike coming out soon, which was designed by IDEO, but until then I have yet to see anything on the level of those in Copenhagen.
What I do see in SF along with PUBLIC bikes, are lots of colorful fixies, lots of mountain or hybrid bikes, lots of road bikes with spandex riders, some touring bikes with panniers, and a few city bikes. Interestingly, we don’t have many or any broke down bikes. And we certainly, at this point in time, don’t have any bike shares. We do have those Blazing Saddles rental bikes though and pedicabs if you include them. I do see an occasional cargo bike but I would like to see more of them. At events, I sometimes see man-tricycles which is my name for those three-wheeler adult bikes that usually have bumping hip-hop speakers on the back. I also see unicycles with riders who are very good at balancing on them and can even ride them up and down hills. I see tall bikes and I see Rock the Bike bikes. I see bikes that were made for Burning Man and shaped like a dragon or covered in colorful faux fur.
You know, SF bikes are pretty cool too in their own way. I like bikes in both Copenhagen and SF. It’s like that Jay-Z song that goes, “I love girls, girls, girls, all over the world…” except you replace “girls” with “bikes”.