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:
The day after coming back from Amsterdam, I was fortunate enough to meet author Pete Jordan at a book reading for his new book In the City of Bikes, a book about bicycling in Amsterdam. He’s an American who went to Amsterdam over a decade ago to study urban development and instantly fell in love with the city and their bicycling culture. So he expatriated there.
It was perfect timing for me to hear about his new book on bicycling in Amsterdam since I just took a trip there and there were a couple of things that I observed that I didn’t understand. Also, I wanted to learn what made Amsterdam the world’s friendliest city for people on bikes. It just boggles my mind that cycling is so prevalent in Amsterdam (and a few other cities) but everywhere else in the world is pretty much dominated by automobiles. While my experience was still fresh in my mind, the book answered my questions and in a wonderful way, it extended my vacation psychologically.
As you can see from the table of contents, there’s over a hundred years (started from the 1890s) worth of bicycle history in Amsterdam. The book has in-depth quotations, facts, and details for almost every important decade chronologically.
In the City of Bikes also reads like a personal memoir which I really enjoyed reading. One example is when his wife, Amy Joy becomes a bicycle mechanic and subsequently starts a bike shop. Another example is the bonding between father and son when his son Ferris sits in front of him on a bicycle playing the game Which Way?.
Mostly, the book speaks about the rich historical culture of bicycles in Amsterdam and it’s engaging. Amsterdammers had fought for their ways against anti-cyclists, Nazi occupation and confiscation of their bikes, and rampant thievery. Through it all, they still tried to implement the White Bicycles Plan in the 1960s which has inspired today’s bike-share programs around the world just as much as their utopian bicycle infrastructure.
The author also covers the story about the famous and controversial Rijksmuseum bike passageway which was recently reopened to cyclists after a decade of closure and was breaking news in the city.
If you are interested in cycling and Amsterdam cycling, both historically and culturally, then this book is for you!
One thing I would like the author to elaborate a little more on is to have more emphasis on his personal experience as an American foreigner moving to Amsterdam for the bicycle culture and also so I can relate even more closely to his passion for bicycling. Perhaps he’s saving it for his next book? I hope so.
Pete Jordan is also the author of the memoir Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States.
HarperCollins Publishers, 2013, $15.99 USD.
I would like to review our Brompton folding bikes because I think folding bikes can meet most bicyclist’s needs. Many people don’t consider purchasing folding bikes because they are small, awkward-looking, may have an uncomfortable ride, or can be perceived as expensive. Although my first bike was not a folding one, I can tell you after owning one that it is the most versatile and well-rounded bike that I own. I use it for almost everything except for very long distance rides.
Folding bikes make commuting on transit and traveling much more convenient. In San Francisco, the MUNI light rail does not allow bikes at any time and BART only allows partial access. This is because a regular-sized bike usually takes the space of 2-4 people, so to make space for the greatest number of people bikes are not allowed. Also, carrying your bike on your shoulder, down the narrow escalator and through the turnstile to board the transit car is just too cumbersome. Elevators are crammed and slow and far too few. So, using a folding bike is a great way to bring your bike with you onto transit since you can fold it up and bring it on any transit line, even those that restrict full-sized bikes. Just make sure to fold it before you get on.
When we traveled to Copenhagen, we planned on using their bike share system to get around and did not realize how difficult it would be for us to do so. Although it’s been called the bike capital of the world alongside Amsterdam, their bike share program City Bikes was not very good. I don’t fault them for that though because their bike share came out 18 years ago and every Dane already has his/her own bike so the system is old and there is little need to improve it very much. The Danish are very tall people and so all of their bike shares are for tall people. Nellie could not find a single bike share she could fit on, even when adjusting the seats all the way down. Also, the bike shares were very heavy with only one speed. They did not come with locks and the social agreement there seems to be if you see one laying around, just grab it even if someone is already using it and is just setting it aside for a second. My bike share was taken from me when I wasn’t looking twice. So then, we tried renting bikes from our hotel, and their bikes still didn’t fit Nellie either. We asked for a child’s bike but it was too small. Eventually, we did find a bike rental shop but we had already wasted so much time. We told ourselves that the next time we travel, we are going to bring our own bikes!
Our criteria for folding bikes are that they have to be compact, light, and have the ride-ability of a full-sized bicycle. I want compactness so that they can fit through the airport scanner, light enough to carry them from check-in-counter to gate-check, and they have to have a comfortable ride. I read many positive testimonials about Brompton folding bikes. They have been handmade in London since 1981. They have received numerous awards such as Bike of the Year in 1996, Award for Innovation, and Bike Biz Brand of the Year in 2010. There was one blog, The Path Less Pedaled, where Russ and Laura reported on their tour around the country on Brompton folding bikes. I thought that if this couple could endure 5,000 miles (8046 km) on them, these folders must be downright awesome! So, when we went to Portland for another bicycling adventure, we paid a visit to Clever Cycles, an authorized dealership for Bromptons. We went there because they have a full array of Bromptons in stock, and Portland doesn’t have sales tax! We bought both of our folding bikes from them with travel cases to boot. The great thing about Brompton folders are that they are pretty customizable to your specific needs. We decided to get the M Type handlebar for a more upright position, standard 3 speed version, fenders, EZ wheels and a front carrier block for mounting Brompton bags. Turkish green for me and hot pink for Nellie. The cost came out to be $1345 USD each.
As the video demonstrates, the bike can be folded in less than 15 seconds. You don’t want a folder to be complicated when you’re in a hurry.
Our first test for traveling with these bikes was when we brought them with us to Strasbourg, bike capital of France. We were not mistaken as to how convenient and enjoyable it would be for us! It was our favorite city to ride in. You got the beautiful parks and rivers all over the city, bistros and brasseries around every corner, charming pedestrian bridges and historical buildings to inspire your curiosity, and calm streets that make riding as enjoyable as it can be. Much of the exploring and getting lost requires frequent stops but these Bromptons made it simple. The wheelbase is similar to a full-sized bike which makes it as stable as riding a regular bike; but the small 16 in (40.6 cm) wheels brings the size of the bike smaller by 20 inches (50 cm) in length which makes it not intrusive to pedestrians on sidewalks, and the expended energy from having to stop and go is not noticeable. The frame being that low to the ground makes getting on and off the bike super easy. Furthermore, we didn’t experience bumpiness from such small wheels (maybe it’s the steel frame configuration that is dampening the bumpiness).
In an old town like Strasbourg, the older hotels usually have small elevators. But at our hotel, with our folding bikes we were able to fit the two of us and our folding bikes just fine.
Each bike comes with a Zefal bike pump which I find to be pretty decent. I am not a strong person but I am able to get enough air in the tires to be ride-able using it. I don’t recommend getting the EZ wheels because they are actually not so “EZ “to roll on.
The standard gear ratio is too high for us but you can request a lower gear ratio at no cost. Nellie and I rarely use the highest gear- it is actually kind of hard to pedal. You can always opt for 6 speed but that comes at an extra charge and additonal weight. The small front tire makes steering very sensitive but you will get used to it. Another issue I have is that although it weighs 26 lbs (11.8 kg), it gets heavy when you have to carry it over a long distance.
If you don’t like the hassle of getting your bike gate-checked at the airport (you will have to check with your airline if they allow folding bikes at gate check), you can get a luggage to transport it. I find the Tern Airporter Mini to be perfect. The Airporter has integrated TSA combination locks, two rolling wheels and a telescopic handle. It is of airline regulation size at 11.4 × 22.4 × 28 in (29 × 57 × 71 cm). The saddle from the bike has to be removed in order to fit. Not a big deal – just make sure to bring your tools to screw it back on. However, if you order a bike with a rear rack, it will not fit. The combined weight of both folder and luggage at around 45 lbs (20 kg) is well within the 50 lbs (22.7 kg) limit. Price is $250 USD.
We will be taking our folding bikes to Amsterdam on our next trip, and we will not bring the Airporters luggage. Since we are flying on KLM, a Dutch airline, hopefully they will understand and I have heard of people gate-checking their Bromptons without any problem. One person even brought their Brompton onto an airplane and stowed it in the overhead cabinet (Boeing 777 or larger).
Overall, we love these durable, well-made, stylish, and adorable bikes and have no regrets about purchasing them.
One last piece of advice: When ordering, the wait time is 6-9 weeks but expect at least 8 weeks. If you are planning a trip using them, make sure to order your bike way ahead in advance.
Ideas of places to ride your Brompton folding bike:
Do you always wonder where those bright colorful bike lights come from? The ones that change colors, shapes and patterns, and are attached to the wheels. Here is a great article that covers them. Oh, SF Bike Party is around the corner (this Friday) and if you need to deck out your bike, these lights are perfect for that and you can purchase them locally!
Imagine this: You are happily riding along on your bicycle as you approach an intersection. The traffic light is green so you plan on cruising straight through. There is a silver Honda Civic in the car lane to your left who suddenly wants to make a right turn. The car swiftly merges to the right to execute the turn, and you suddenly find yourself moving fast into an ever shrinking pathway ahead, sandwiched between the car and the sidewalk, with no place to go. Only one of three things can happen:
1. You hit the brakes and/or the driver realizes you’re there and hits their brakes, and you narrowly miss a cosmic collision.
2. Neither of you can stop in time or move out of the way and the next thing you know, you are flying into the side of a metal wall and then laying on the ground dazed, in pain, and hopefully still conscious.
3. You make the split second decision that you’d rather eat concrete than metal, so you kamikaze your bike into the sidewalk and go flying into God knows what.
Unfortunately, we all know too well that this sort of scene plays out every day in the lives of cyclists everywhere. This phenomenon is known as “right hook” and if you’ve never been a victim of it, you know someone who has.
Well, necessity is the mother of invention and seeing that we need a way to announce our presence to oblivious drivers in more ways than just visual, it’s about time that proper bike horns were invented.
So, we’ve rounded up three promising bicycle accessories from Kickstarter, a crowd funding website where inventors can raise funds to develop their products, and have shared what we think about each of them.
1. Orp Smart Horn
The first comes to us by way of our bike-friendly cousin to the north, Portland, Oregon. Orp is a bike horn and light combo that can generate two levels of noise: a polite low level noise and a loud level noise than can reach 96 decibels. They need to raise $90k and with 30 days left to go, they are a little more than 1/3 funded on Kickstarter.
What we like so far about Orp:
- It has a pleasant sounding lower level noise in addition to the loud one. Sometimes you don’t need to make such a loud racket which can be annoying to people and the lower level noise kind of sounds like a cute little bird chirping.
- Nice design.
- It has a bike headlight incorporated so then you can get two birds with one stone.
- It looks easy to affix to your handlebars, seems easy to operate, and easily rechargeable with USB.
- The founder seems to have extensive experience and knows what he is doing.
- You get 5 hours of constant operating time per charge. If you are a daily commuter and/or ride a lot, you may need to charge it quite often.
- Drivers may be confused and even freaked out (that may not be such a bad thing, hee hee) by the unusual sounding noise.
- Field testing needs to be done- sure it can get up to 96 db but is it actually loud enough that drivers can hear it?
2. Loud Bicycle, Car Horn for Your Bike
Update (2/5/13) – Manufacturer of Linus Bikes are partnering up with Loud Bicycle to develop the bike horn. Yay! I believe this is the reason why the video was taken down.
Honk back at those cars when they honk at you! Loud Bicycle lets you speak the language of the metal death monsters! This is a horn straight out of Boston, Massachusetts that actually sounds like a car horn. They’ve already raised more than $50k on Kickstarter and are now fully funded. Hooray for them!
What we like so far about Loud Bicycle:
- Like they said in the video, a driver will understand a car horn sound when they hear it.
- The opportunity to honk back at a driver if they honk at you. This is my favorite aspect.
- Long battery life.
- Although drivers know the sound of a car horn when they hear it, they will not understand that it is coming from a bike. It’s like seeing a mouse running around and hearing the sound of a lion roar, but no lion. Confusion may still result. (On a side note, did you hear about that dog that looks like a lion?)
- A bit bulky and unattractive. It would be better if there was a bike light incorporated.
- We don’t like the name “Loud Bicycle” that much because it doesn’t sound like the name of a bike horn or even a bike accessory. But I guess a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet?
3. BLAZE Bike Light
This one is not actually a bike horn, but we thought it was worthy of a mention. BLAZE is a bike light from London, UK that creates visibility for cyclists by projecting a laser bike image on the road a few feet ahead so that drivers will see it and know there is a bike nearby. It helps a lot with staying visible, even in a car’s blind spot. They were fully funded on Kickstarter when funding closed on December 23rd of last year. They raised 55k in sterlings. Hope we will see these in stores in The States as well as the UK.
What we like so far about BLAZE:
- The concept is really cool and original.
- The light projected will definitely increase visibility and looks attractive too.
- “Built in the UK and assembled by hand” and looks high quality.
- Has a safety feature built in to prevent the damaging of people’s retinas with the laser- the laser symbol will not work unless it is mounted on a bike, but the LED light will still work.
- Their Kickstarter video is relaxing.
- Laser projection is not as visible in day light.
- Battery on full charge lasts up to 6 hours in constant on mode. According to them, a commuter cyclist would only need to charge it once a week. That is still too frequent for us.
I just got the book ‘Cycle Chic‘ from my wife, Nellie. She won it for me in a contest at this wonderful blog, Cycle Chic. To enter the contest, each entrant had to write a statement of why they think the person they are trying to win it for deserves the prizes of a book and CD (Bicycle: Nora and One Left). I love the Cycle Chic blog and I follow it religiously. So, it was a heart-warming gift when she won it for me.
The book, like the blog, is by Mikael Colville-Anderson and has 288 pages and 368 colorful photographs with some fabulous quotes from famous people. One of my favorite quotes is, “Everytime I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race” – H.G. Wells.
Most of the photos were taken in Copenhagen and show everyday people on their bicycles going about their business. Like the blog’s message, it accentuates the notion that cycling is for everybody and that you can look chic while riding. There are no photos of men in lycra, helmets and on road bikes. And that is exactly what we witnessed during our vacation in Copenhagen a year and a half ago. What I find interesting is that the photos really capture the people and their city’s vibe with such little text. It’s a great coffee table book or can be a nice gift to a person that you love. It was recently released and only comes in hardcover for now.
Here is my personal take on the bike accessory called Bike Wrappers. What are Bike Wrappers you ask? They are removable and reversible safety wraps for bike frames and for $45 they come in a set of three. The first piece measures approx. 16” long and fits over the top tube; the second piece measures 18” long and is for the down tube; and the third wrapper is 9” long and fits over the seat tube. All three pieces come with a pattern on one side and a safety reflective on the other. They wrap around the frame with Velcro.
- I like that they are machine washable and easy to put on without any fuss. As a lifestyle cyclist living in a small condo, I like everything to be as simple as possible and these wrappers fit that. You don’t need to wear reflective clothing because these reflective wrappers will do the job.
- The down tube piece has an opening to accommodate bottle cages.
- They come in variety of pretty cool patterns and I am sure you can find one to your liking. The pattern I chose gives my bike a different look- like it is dressed in a warm and preppy sweater.
- They are definitely highly reflective. I could see my bike at least 200 feet away and beyond that, the bike would be too small to the naked eye anyway and drivers usually have their low beams on. That distance is plenty enough to get a motorist’s attention.
- They are made right here in San Francisco and that is great because I support local.
Could be improved:
- Although it would fit on a mountain bike, hybrid or a BMX frame nicely, I think the seat tube piece (9” long) is too short for either a road or track frame’s seat tube. A longer wrapper would definitely help with the scratches from locking that area of the seat tube and rear wheel with a U-lock. In addition, when the reflective side of the seat tube piece is facing outwards, too much of the Velcro is exposed.
- It would be better if the bike wrapper pieces were sold separately and not as a set of three. Many cyclists like to only wrap the top tube. Doing so does not give the same visibility as having two or three, but it is more aesthetically pleasing.
You will get an almost 360 view of the reflectives except for when facing the bike head on because of the head tube/front tire obstruction. This shouldn’t matter if you have front bike lights. If they start selling them in individual pieces rather than as a set of three, I would recommend them if someone is shopping for a bike wrapper and wants to increase visibility. In my opinion, having three pieces wrapped on the bike frame instead of just the top tube is a little tacky- like putting a sweater on a dog. I think it would be even better if the reflective was incorporated into the pattern on a single side. That would make it more convenient instead of having to flip the wrapper over for day or night use. It would also be cool to be able to customize the colors and patterns. Think of all the possibilities!
You can buy them right here in SF at Sports Basement and other bike shops around town. They are also sold in stores across the country. Check their website for more info: www.bikewrappers.com.