3 Aug 2010
The Tale of Two Bikes
Yes, I know, my film on Melbourne Bike Share, has a gloomy tone to it. Most of my persuavies try for a light tone, but this time, the constant rain, the lonely bikes, it all got to me.
I did not realize just how gloomy was my reporting till the Barclays Bike news started flooding in from London, and I realized that our bike share scene suffers by comparison with all the British excitement.
We are talking about virtually the same bike by the way, here in Melbourne and in London.
They are both made in Bagotville, Quebec by a clever company called Devinci .
Sturdy Devinci built step through sit-ups are now are winning bike share contracts around the world, beating out, it seems the more fragile Paris bikes, the Velibs.
Treehugger blog describes them thus.
…they are built like two-wheeled tanks: they weigh 23 kg. (50 lb.) so that they can’t be vandalized easily.
Unlike the new Barclay’s bikes, Montreal’s version, again the same bike, carries no advertising.
These Bixis were cleverly named through a local competition. The name, Bixi, is mix of bicyclette and taxi, stressing that this this not a fun hire bike primarily, but a bit of public transport.
I think Melbourne Bike Share as a name, is a dull mouthful for the bikes I rode last week, and I’m hoping that something more playful and fun, like Mixi, might catch on.
Barclays Bicycles has certain a ring to it, but some Londoners apparently resent Barclays buying naming rights for $25 million.
Already, instead of Barclays Bikes, they are being dubbed Boris Bikes, which sounds like it might stick, given the color which London mayor, Boris Johnson, brings to them.
Some peace protesters don’t like the bank’s connections with military spending and have plastered some bikes with stickers.
I must agree with the anger towards any institution funding depleted uranium, a nightmare substance whose impact on Iraq is not well known.
The doc. Blowin in the Wind, is a good way to find out more.
In any case, excitement is literally spilling out of London, along with some friendly mockery, as Londoners hop on Boris Bikes in really impressive numbers.
1000 were rented in the first hour, 6000 in the first day.
Oh, we wish it was like that here!. Melbourne Bike Share (MBS) would be struggling to claim 6000 riders for the whole two months that they’ve been open.
But to be fair, London has 5000 bikes on the street, and Melbourne, just 400.
As for the teasing the new Boris Bikes, Zoe Williams, writing for The Guardian echoes Treehugger.
“The bikes are roughly the weight of a small shed…You look like a keen young employee of Barclays bank who’s been given an apprentice’s bike and is proud to be seen with it, all over town..
It’s a Miss Marple-ish steed, with a comfy saddle and no crossbar, a sit-up- and-beg classic.”
Another Guardian writer, Helen Pidd, admits to being immediately won over by the new bikes, saying says she felt like a celebrity as people watched her pass on her first ride, and shouted encouragingly,
“You’re on one of Boris Bikes!”
Builders on sites called out; “What’s it like to ride?”
Helen dubbed the bike, “smooth riding,” and said she felt “invincible,” a very interesting comment since our bikes, the Mixis, are suffering from the general aura of weakness and fear we’ve managed to create around all city cycling in Australia.
On ours, we’re vincible, I guess.
Here’s Helen, clearly already a convert to the step through way to ride.
Whilst here it’s been pretty quiet, London Twitter and the blogsphere have erupted with comment.
A pretty good “trundle” one blogger wrote. “Heavy, but very smooth,” someone else twitted, noting that these bikes are built to stand, “Careless cyclists and late night drunk who’ve missed the Tube.” Worrying thought, that.
Mayor Boris is front and centre, cleverly mocking himself if not the bikes. He describes himself on the Barclays as looking, “a bit like an elderly french onion seller.”
Not true of course. With his mighty mop, Boris has got style, flair and humor to spare.
He ended a launch speech about the place these bikes will have in London lives, like this:
“In 1904, 20% of journeys were made on bikes. I want to see those kinds of figures again. If you can’t turn back the clock to 1904, ladies and gentlemen, what’s the point of being a conservative?”
What Boris brings is what is so lacking here, a sense of the fun in cycling as well as its importance as a sensible way of getting around.
Our continual harping on danger with; Helmet, Helmet, Helmet. is so corrosive.
Don’t those who chant this mantra realize the pall it casts over cycling one which is far more dangerous than any safety they may wish upon us individually?
On that great London blog, Real Cycling, I find amongst the pics of the first days of the London roll-out, not a single helmeted rider.
And yet Rob who writes the blog, has nothing against people wearing helmets if they so choose, and I’m sure has not selected his photos to make the point.
There have been glitches in London. But people seem to be having a good time at docking stations, teaching each other how it works.
Actually, I had no trouble with the new Mixi bikes in Melbourne when I staked out a docking station last week (see previous post)
They slid out of the docking stations smoothly once my key was inserted , and rode with the sort of stately stability that people in London have also discovered.
From London twitter, I’ve learned that on some of their bikes, the brakes are too tight, so that you might get one whose back wheel hardly turns at all.
The instant experts suggest that you should always lift the back wheel and make sure it rotates smoothly , and then if turning well, pull out the bike by the saddle with the wheel still in the air. Easier to free that way apparently. No such problems with the bikes I tried.
A London blogger warns that if you don’t return the bike solidly to the notch, if it does not click in loudly and the green light come on, then the bike may seem to be back home, but may still be yours, eating up your credit card as you walk off.
This did happen to me which I discovered when I tried to take another bike later in the day, and found my key would not work. I’d not properly notched my previous rental
Having guessed what had happened, I phoned MBS from the docking station and spoke to someone who could see the problem on a screen. He told me which bike to re notch, and then gave me a refund of an hour.
In London that happen so often on the first day, that general refunds in the thousands of pounds have been promised to inexperienced notchers.
One woman reported the computer had recorded her as riding for 11 hours 11 minutes and eleven seconds.
So, hear the click and see the green before you go.
I suspect that bike notching will become such a part of city life, that we’ll wonder how it was ever difficult, just as we now wonder how mobiles once had us fooled.
There have been grumbles here and there about the lack of locks on the bike itself, though students of the system point out that this is intentional.
It ensures rapid turnover of the bikes. They don’t want you lingering, shopping or stopping for a coffee, but want you putting the bike back for someone else.
Strange that, since they make no money till you go over the free half hour.
But I did notice that our Melbourne bikes, unlike those in London, have a loop of strong wire behind the seat which almost looks like it might work with a lock if you happened to bring one with you.
But then, there’s no explanation on our Mixies for this curious loop which slides up and out, and so maybe, they haven’t quite decided on its role yet.
The basket is generally dubbed too small by most, though one disturbing blog suggests that you could stuff a passenger into it. This might be an explanation as to why they’ve kept it that size.
They’ve had to devise these bikes to withstand all sorts of strange abuse which might be in store, as this video of free riding Velibs in Paris shows. No wonder so many Velibs are soon unserviceable.
Both our bikes and the London ones, have a red breakdown button you can push on the docking console, alerting roving teams of maintenance people who then swoop and fix, I’m told.
The first day in London reported no bikes stolen. None have been stolen here either that I’ve heard. This may be because they are undesirable, or, rumor has it, that they have a tracking device in board.
The London clientele has quickly worked out some tricks. For instance, if you want to stay within the free half hour, it’ll help to have a stop watch with you and map of the docking stations.
If you want to re-borrow the bike for a longer ride, that is a second free half hour, you’ll need to notch in, and then wait five minutes between returning the bike and being able to release another.
This will no doubt lead to a new sort of time -based conversation etiquette, as Boris bikers wait together at docking stations for release.
It could become like those generally satisfying conversations at the end of flights. Those you know it’s safe to start because there’s only five minutes to go before landing.
Of great interest to me, having stood guard over the lonely Melbourne Mixies of two days, is that the London chatter has not brought up the topic which obsesses us, and which keeps our bike unused, our helmet law.
Maybe some people are wearing helmets on Boris Bikes, or would like them supplied, but it’s not mentioned.
Compared with us, who don’t dare ride a meter without a lid, it seems as if everyone else must have some sort of heavenly protection to feel so safe on such bikes in London traffic.
One person notes that on the flat bit between the handlebars, there is a message sticker on the Barclays bikes to remind you to look out for vehicles turning left, a very sensible warning.
On our bikes, the space is also occupied by a sticker, ours to warn you that you are breaking the law if you are wearing no helmet.
And so our bikes stay in the racks since who walks round with a helmet? Will we ever look as carefree as London’s looking these days?
Fooled you! That’s a Melbourne couple, doing some under cover cycling as it were.
I’ve just discovered this delightful film on Melbourne as it should be, the city with flair. Seeing this it’s hard to imagine they can’t liberate their share bikes as they’ve liberated their laneways.
A great watch, folks, from Streetfilms