I finally got my Bixi key last Wednesday, hurray! But I had to wait with tappy-footed impatience to try it out since I wasn’t downtown until today. I’ve been looking forward to its launch, as my own bike has been languishing due to the need to take the subway to get M to school and home again (there’s really no kid-safe bike route between our house and her school, and anyway 6km each direction is probably a bit far for a kid’s commute). It’s almost another 3km to my office. I often walk at least one direction, but being able to bike is a nice (and faster) option.
For the uninitiated, Bixi is a bike-sharing service. You pick up a bike at whatever station you like and return it to whatever station you like (the same station or a totally different one). You can pay by the day ($5), 72 hours ($12), month ($40), or year ($95). Trips of less than half an hour are included in those prices; trips longer than that cost extra. Since at the moment it’s a downtown-only service, however, it’s mighty hard to exceed thirty minutes unless, I don’t know, you ride around in circles for a while or something.
There’s a Bixi station just by M’s school, with ten or so bikes. So I stuck my key in the lock to get the station to release a bike, adjusted the seat height (they have convenient numbered markings), clamped my purse in the front basket, put on my helmet and off I wobbled. I got the feel of the bike within a few blocks and stopped wobbling — they’re just very different from my own bike!
Heavy but stable – these things feel solid. Tanklike, almost. No light breeze will push you off-course on one of these things. It takes some effort to drive them. I wouldn’t want to, say, put it on my back to go up the Casa Loma stairs or anything. On the other hand, they’re very stable, not twitchy or fussy or unpredictable at all. Solid. Once they get going they have some decent momentum. I hope they’ll be easy to maintain.
Very upright – they’re cruisers, definitely. I found myself sailing along in an almost perfect standing position, like Mary Poppins on her carousel horse. This is so entertaining I don’t think you could help but be in a good mood while riding one. Also, it gives you excellent visibility.
3 speeds, none particularly fast – if you’re used to zooming along at near-traffic speed, well, forget it. These are not fast bikes; sit back (stand back? One barely sits) and enjoy the ride. They have three speeds controlled by gripshifters — the lowest will probably get you up most big hills, the middle will get you started at stoplights, and the highest will carry you along at a reasonable but by no means speedy clip. I found myself wishing for a fourth gear. Because of the weight of the bike, though, I found I did work up a bit of a sweat as I sailed along. These bikes are not going to win anyone any races, although a race of Bixi bikes would be very entertaining to watch. A bunch of sweaty upright folks working to exceed 20km/h…
Soft brakes – you can’t stop in a hurry. It takes a bit of time. Not that you’re going very fast. There’s no possible way to flip yourself over the handlebars by braking too hard (my specialty!) on one of these puppies. Still, I pity the pedestrian who steps off the curb without looking and gets nailed… the weight of the bike combined with the inability to stop on a dime is going to hurt.
Step through frame and chain guard – clearly these are bikes made for riding in whatever clothes you happen to be wearing. Smart. It’s nice not to have to carry a pants clip.
No clips on the pedals – this was the biggest adjustment for me. I am, apparently, very used to my clips. I had a couple of false starts where my attempt to raise the pedal by lifting my foot left me looking pretty goofy. I’d kind of forgotten about having to push off the ground to start! By my second trip I’d more-or-less got the hang of it, but my first few stoplights were probably pretty funny for onlookers.
Overall: I was thoroughly amused, got to where I was going in less time than it would’ve taken to take the subway, and can recommend it fully. Let’s hope they’re successful enough to expand the service area!