A Big Day for Bike Share in B.C.

sperm whale image
16 month gestation. Suckles for up 13 years. That would test a mother’s love. (source: NYC Public LIbrary)

Moby Dick was a sperm whale. They have a gestation period of 14-16 months. Mobi – Vancouver’s new bike share system, has taken even longer to get from idea to reality. But today marked the system’s unveiling to the public and lots of first impressions are being bandied about. Here’s what I experienced:

Mobi bike share
Vancouver’s bike share system, called Mobi, rolled out on July 20, 2016

I signed up online on my desktop computer this morning, with the process taking about as long as it always does to register for something online when you trust Google to autofill your personal details like address etc (maybe 2 min?). I chose the early-bird special ($129 for a year) that offers unlimited one hour rides (go past the time limit and you pay extra). There’s also a $99 offer, with the free time per use halved to 30 minutes. I’m a slow cyclist and I felt the extra 30 minute buffer was worth the extra money. I’ll look at my use at the end of the year and perhaps downgrade for Year Two. An app to search for bike locations etc will be launched soon according to the website.

The bike is unlocked when you swipe your fob and enter your pass code.
The bike unlocks when you swipe your fob and enter your pass code.

Watched a woman attempt her first ride, using the fob that the company sends to you in the mail. A few hiccups but between us we figured it out and off she went. Once you’ve logged into the system for the first time, your fob acts like a standard access card for an office building or similar. Hold it against the control panel, it registers your presence and asks for your four digit code. Punch it into the keypad and the bike rack unlocks almost immediately. The cable that keeps the supplied helmet with the bike while locked up retracts into the curved handlebar. Ingenious. One thing to be aware of, in my case, when the cable released from its attachment point on the frame, the helmet fell to the ground. Something I’ll watch for in future. Not sure if it’s a small flaw in the system or a one-off, but I did read of another user having a similar experience. The helmet barely fit my large noggin. Normal people with average craniums will be fine. I have a BFF that will never be able to fit his giant skull in one! But, given our silly helmet laws, and the problems too-big helmets would engender, I’m not sure there’s a better solution.

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The step-through frame design is totally not effeminate and if you think that you’re probably a Republican.

I had occasion to use the system myself later in the afternoon – riding from Canada Place to Olympic Village. I had intended to go to Science World, expecting there would be a docking station there (I didn’t check first) but in reality the closest station was actually a couple hundred metres distant on the east side of Olympic Village. Pro tip: as the system rolls out, make sure there’s a docking station where you’re going, or in the vicinity. I think as users become familiar with the system, we’ll all get to know where the stations are. As it expands, I think they’ll be fairly ubiquitous in the service areas.

The bike itself is best described as a cruiser. Not light, not fast, and not sleek. A comfortable, upright riding style. The handlebars are in a comfortable position, slightly narrower than I would choose for my broad-shouldered self as a rule, but nothing bothersome. But the gearing is suitable for Vancouver terrain and I think it would take a pretty steep hill to require one to get out of the saddle and stand on the pedals to climb. Pretty sure there’s a rear blinky light that activates automatically in the dark. I forgot to check the front for a forward-facing white light. Whatever it has, I’m sure it meets our provincial regulations. Hard to imagine the City opening themselves up to that kind of legal liability by skimping on reflectors et al.

Gear changing is via a ‘Gripshift’ system (a barrel on the right handgrip that you twist to change gears). The bike has a 7 speed internal gear rear hub, which offers the benefit (unlike a regular derailleur-equipped bicycle) of being able to shift gears while stationary. I think this is a good choice as occasional users will be likely to forget to gear down before stopping at a light or stop sign (a cyclist stopping at a stop sign? It could happen). Frame is a step-through design (a girl’s bike as we used to call them) but darn if it isn’t refreshing not to have to swing a leg over every time you hop on a bike. Would that I could excise the last vestiges of machismo from my psyche and ride one of these designs regularly. A downside for those who are used to a top tube between their legs; you can’t stand with the bike between your legs in the same fashion that you can with a standard diamond frame bicycle and have it stay upright. Again, a quibble and first-time-use growing pain that will go away with familiarity I think.

The saddle is squishy! Too much for my taste. I like a hard saddle and perching on my ‘sit’ bones as a rule. Again, by the end of the ride I wasn’t really noticing this however. I can live with it. The seatpost has markings that correspond to your height. Release the seat quick release, adjust accordingly, close the lever and you’re ready to ride. Or if you’re me, look at that number, weep silently inside, and bemoan your vertically-challenged genes. So it goes.

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The front basket has room for a large handbag, backpack, etc.

The handlebars have a basket arrangement on the front where you can put a backpack, purse, or bag. A bungee cord secures the load by going over it and hooking onto a lip on the front of the basket. Warning. Be aware of any straps etc that can dangle. It’s not impossible that a backpack strap or shoulder-bag strap could end up in the front spokes, bringing you to an abrupt and painful halt when it fouls (nautical talk!) the front wheel.

Brakes were functional but not amazing. I’m used to some high end disc brakes on all my bikes and have been spoiled by their power and feel at the brake lever. These ones worked well enough and because they appear to be drum brakes rather than the more typical rim brakes, will hopefully work as well in the rain as in dry weather. A shame that disc brakes weren’t chosen, but that would have undoubtedly been pricier and a heat-score in bike-thefty Vancouver. Thanks for nothing provincial gov’t for your years of under-funding social programs and drug treatment. This is why we can’t leave nice things lying around the downtown core. But I digress.

One criticism of Mobi is that it might cut into the business of private bike rentals. I’m skeptical. I stood at the edge of Jack Poole Plaza today for about a half hour between appointments and saw just how many rental bikes went by on the Seawall below ( a group of people on identical bikes with identical helmets is a dead giveaway). I also doubt that your average bike share rider can do the Stanley Park Seawall in a half-hour (the one-day-use free time limit). And if you’ve ridden that portion of the Seawall, you know that it’s a big draw for cycling tourists. In addition, Mobi is restricted to people of legal age, whereas the bike rental companies offer options for families, kids, etc, which by my anecdotal observation, must be a fair chunk of their business (Mom, Dad, and a couple kids).

Bottom line. If you have to be downtown and move around the core, this is a convenient and cheap way to get around. Essentially 30 cents a day for a year for unlimited trips within the time limit of the package you choose. If you think you’re going to use it, the early-bird deal is a good one. I would recommend snapping it up before it ends (July 31).

Did I really just spend a couple unpaid hours writing a review of a bike share launch? I need a life. Here’s a link to the Mobi website: https://www.mobibikes.ca/

What did I miss? Taken a ride yet? What was your impression? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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