Keep fit, stay green, beat congestion, live viscerally and take in a city’s sights on two wheels in a growing number of bike-sharing schemes. This article is an excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2013.
If you want to see how far China has embraced green living come to Hangzhou, Zhejiang province’s oasis of urban beauty and proud home of the world’s second-largest bike-sharing scheme (fellow Chinese city Wuhan is first). Hangzhou’s statistics make Paris’ Vélib look almost insignificant: 60,000 bikes residing in 2500 docking stations, most of which have been cleverly integrated to link up with the public transportation network. Nearly 250,000 people in this 6.7 million-strong metropolis use the bikes daily, taking advantage of a generous borrowing scheme which offers residents and visitors the first hour of usage for free.
Special Z cards procured at City Smart Card centres can be used to store up to ¥300 of usage time.
Bicycles give you freedom, or so Paris’ Vélib would like you to believe; the name is a contraction of vélo liberté, meaning ‘freedom bike’. Sitting pretty in a city that hosts cycling’s biggest stage race, the Tour de France, 20,600 bikes await potential users in 1450 docking stations spaced a handy 300m apart. Thanks to its ambitious size and heavy usage, Vélib has become a blueprint for bike-sharing schemes worldwide, though it gained early notoriety for its high number of thefts. Pilfered petite reines (little queens), as the bikes are known, have been found as far away as North Africa.
The 24-hour access fee is €1.70; usage charges for 30 minutes/1hr/2hrs free/€1/€7. For more information see www.velib.paris.fr.
Montrealers are a hardy bunch to whom the odd October snow flurry n’est pas un problème. Nevertheless, cycling in a city where January temperatures can plummet to minus 20/*C, requires a bit of seasonal adjustment. Consequently, Montreal’s Bixi scheme – the first comprehensive bike-share in Canada – hibernates in November and reopens in April when the weather is less frigid. Using aluminium, puncture-resistant bikes and smart solar-powered technology to fire its 405 docking stations, Bixi’s 2009 launch was so successful that the company has gone on to found bike schemes in numerous other cities including London, Washington DC, and Toronto.
The 24-hour access fee is C$5; usage charges for 30 minutes/1hr/2hrs free/C$1.50/C$10.50. For more information see www.montreal.bixi.com.
Bixi rides again in the US capital! The nation’s second big city bike-sharing scheme, founded in 2010 and known locally as CaBi (Capital Bikeshare), is funded by public money and largely apes the road-tested system set up in Montreal a year earlier. Although relatively small by European or Chinese standards, Washington’s average usage of 4000 daily trips is an encouraging start in a country that has long had a love-in with the motor car. What’s more, technology geeks equipped with a smartphone can download a free app called Spotcycle which informs you of bicycle availability at the nearest docking station.
The 24-hour access fee is US$7; usage charges for 30 minutes/1hr/2hrs free/US$2/US$14. For more information see www.capitalbikeshare.com.
London’s 6000 ‘Boris bikes’, named after city mayor and avid cyclist Boris Johnson, first graced the UK capital’s asphalt in July 2010 in a scheme based on Montreal’s Bixi. On streets more accustomed to red double-decker buses and black taxis, the 23kg two-wheeled machines were a surprising hit; usage during the first year was an average 25,000 per day and it has been rumoured that even members of the royal family ride them. Edging east from London’s ‘square mile’ financial district, Boris bikes’ geographical reach will be extended in 2012 to the borders of the Summer Olympics site.
The 24-hour access fee is £1; usage charges for 30 minutes/1hr/2hrs free/£1/£6. For more information see www.tfl.gov.uk.
Mexico City, Mexico
The planet’s most improbable and possibly most necessary bike scheme (given the pollution) kicked off in February 2010 with the city authorities rescinding a mandatory helmet law to encourage more subscribers. The system known as Ecobici was an immediate success, garnering 30,000 subscribers in its first year and expanding its coverage beyond Mexico City’s Federal District into the historical core. There are 1000 bikes, with each being utilised on average eight times per day, but unlike other schemes, Ecobici is for residents only who pay annual subscriptions. Not surprisingly, in a city of 21 million, there’s a long waiting list.
Annual subscription is M$300; usage charges for 45 minutes/1hr/2hrs free/M$10/M$45. For more information see www.ecobici.df.gob.mx.
Few cities have undergone such a radical greening in recent years as Seville which, since 2007, has initiated an underground metro, an above-ground tram, and a pioneering bike-sharing scheme known as Sevici. Turning your pedals in Andalucia’s flat, balmy cultural capital while inhaling the aroma of freshly ripening oranges has to be one of Spain’s most pleasurable outdoor experiences, and it’s made easier by the city’s traffic-light arterial roads, many of which have been pedestrianised to accommodate more trams and bikes. Sevici offers a minimum of seven days access to short-term visitors – a good incentive to extend your stay!
Seven day access fee is €10; usages charges for 30 minutes/1hr/2hrs free/€1/€3. For more information see www.sevici.es.
Rivalled only by Amsterdam for its bike friendliness, Copenhagen has a long history of sustainable transportation. Today, 37% of daily commutes in the Danish capital are undertaken by bicycle and its bike-sharing scheme, introduced in 1995, was the first of the modern city models. Copenhagen’s system is unique in that the borrowing is free; you just push a 20 kroner returnable coin into a slot to release your bike like a shopping trolley. The bikes, which are currently being upgraded, are famously durable. In 2005, in a publicity stunt, a Danish journalist rode one 3500km from Copenhagen to Istanbul inside a month.
Access deposit is DDK20; all usage is free. Bikes are available March-November. For more information see www.bycyklen.dk.
Melbourne Bike Share, introduced in 2010, was slow out of the blocks in such an ostensibly sports-loving city due primarily to its helmet law. The Australian city’s scheme was the first in the world to insist on mandatory helmets and early usage figures (only 250 a day) suggested reluctance to adapt to the rule. Undeterred, the city authorities have begun offering cheap helmets from strategically located vending machines and numbers have subsequently picked up. Another Melbourne quirk is its bike-share tours, designed to orientate visitors to both the intricacies of the sharing system and the sights of the city.
The 24-hour access fee is A$2.60; usage charge for 30 minutes/1hr/2hrs free/A$2/A$17. For more information see www.melbournebikeshare.com.au.
Bike-sharing arrived in the Middle East in May 2011 with the inauguration of Tel Aviv’s Tel-o-fun system stocked with 1500 green bikes, most of which come handily equipped with adaptable child-seats pinned over the back wheel. In a country well-known for its collective kibbutz spirit, the sharing system has been well received by urban communities whose apartment-style living leaves little room for bike storage. Over 70km of marked bike lanes, many of them traversing the city’s attractive beach front, add a touch of class to the cycling infrastructure.
The 24-hour access fee is 14NIS; usage charge for 30 minutes/1hr/2.5hrs free/3NIS/30NIS. For more information see www.tel-o-fun.co.il.
All prices were correct at time of publication.