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Friday, November 16, 2012

To Bike or Not To Be

Minneapolis Bike Kiosk
Capital Bikes
Toronto Bixbi and a pint for good measure


Every year we travel to major cities while attending conferences and furniture shows and are often challenged with transportation, especially at a crowded trade show. Over the past year something dramatic happened that greatly simplified how we are getting around: Instead of walking and hailing taxis we got on bikes. It isn't that we ever stopped riding bikes as we all ride regularly at home, but the ease and access of bike travel while visiting a city is blossoming. It all started in Toronto when we discovered the Bixbi bikesharing system. We soon discovered that, like Toronto and in many cities, rows of public bike sharing facilities are popping up like tulips in locations right where you need and want to go. The bikes are solid, heavy, tank like unisex bikes with three gears, easily adjustable seats, a handlebar rack with bungee cords for holding gear, and built-in LED lights that come on when the bike is in motion. And these bikes are perfect for quick transportation around a car and pedestrian crowded city. We typically incorporate trains and now bike sharing has become the icing on the cake.

While in DC I discovered Capital Bikes on the street corner right outside my hotel and every morning the 30 bikes lined up the night before were all gone. It turns out people use them to get to the Metro. The early bird gets the worm in this case and so the next day I had to set my alarm a little bit earlier than I would like. When I got my bike I spontaneously rode to nearly every memorial on the Mall. I don’t know how you could do that in a taxi, on foot, or on a bus; at least not as conveniently or with as much ease and enjoyment. Most of the bike sharing systems utilize an IT System that allows you to easily use a credit card to check out your bike. Once you’re in the system it’s quite easy to pedal between facilities and shuffle between bikes at your convenience. As of 2011 there were 136 bike sharing programs in 165 cities around the world. Launched in 2008, the Hangzhou Public Bicycle program in China is currently the largest program with more than 2400 stations and 60,000 bikes. Nice Ride in Minneapolis launched in 2010 and already has more than 150 stations and 1400 bikes. You can check availability of bikes with your phone and the kiosk bike stations are solar powered. 


Brooklyn Cruiser along the Hudson
Public Hotel Bikes
From Amsterdam with love

Along with the bike sharing, which is typically organized by non-profits and cities, we are finding hotels that offer bikes for guests to use too. While guests at the Maritime Hotel in NYC they literally traded in their old chrome beach cruisers for brand new Brooklyn Cruiser city bikes in the middle of our stay. Biking NYC turned out to be absolutely wonderful, safe, refreshing, and with three of us one night we had an “I love you man” moment that doesn't usually happen in a taxi or on the subway. There are more bike lanes than you would expect in NYC and at night the streets we found were fairly quiet. The Public Hotel in Chicago also has beach cruisers and the bike paths along Lake Shore Drive are just down the block. After a day in the Merchandise Mart we found a ride along the lake was just what we needed. We rode in San Diego this year too but we had to drive to find the bikes so it wasn't quite the same and we couldn’t find bike sharing in LA either but its coming. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled a $16-million bike-share program this summer that aims to put thousands of bicycles at hundreds of rental kiosks across the city.

Still, with all this bike sharing going on we still have a long way to go here in the US to approach anything close to what’s going on in Amsterdam. We rented classic city bikes there and rolled around the city over stone bridges and along canals, stopping to eat French fries and drink coffee. There are bike routes and paths everywhere and the bike parking ramps have to be seen to be believed. Pardon the pun but it spoke to us bike lovers and certainly shows where bike sharing programs could go. Next time you’re out and about I encourage you to plan your day with bikes as your preferred mode of transportation. You may want to pack a helmet.



Written by Greg Benson // Lollygagger // CEO

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