Learning to share (bikes)

September 3, 2013

Kristin Butcher


Chicago’s bike share program, Divvy, launched in June 2013 and has already has more than 150,000 rides.

There’s no doubt about it: Bike sharing systems are showing up everywhere. What started off with a handful of spray-painted bikes left around cities for anyone to use has evolved into fully computerized systems renting out fleets of bikes in places like Chicago and New York City. Municipal bike share programs have large appeal to visitors wishing to get a local’s view of a city. In addition, locals who want to make quick bike trips around town take advantage of the programs, as do folks looking to alleviate the ?last mile? problem of public transportation.

Since 2008, when we helped bring bike sharing to both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, bike sharing programs have spread to more than 30 cities across the country (see our infographic here). Whether you?re planning a visit to a city with bike sharing, working on incorporating bike sharing into your daily commute, or deciding to run a quick errand by bike, here are some tips to get you going:

Plan ahead. Knowledge leads to confidence, and while bike share systems are designed to be intuitive, it always helps to be familiar with a city’s bike route system, bike share kiosks, and bike features (like locking mechanisms and bag holders) beforehand. Most bike sharing programs have detailed websites that you can research prior to your trip.

Keep your rides short.┬áBike sharing systems are not intended for all-day leisure rides. Almost all systems will charge you for taking a bike out for longer than 30 minutes. However, as long as your swap your bike for a new one within the time limit, you’re free to ride all day.

Know where to dock. Most bike sharing stations display a map of the area including where to find other docks. Before you head out for the day, it’s handy to have an idea of where you plan on returning the bike once your two-wheeled excursion is over.

Maps make exploring more fun. Many cities with a bike sharing program have bike route maps or apps that can be downloaded from the Internet. Having a map on hand can turn a simple errand into an opportunity to explore the city on two wheels.

Don?t be afraid to call. On most bike sharing bicycles, a handy dandy phone number is listed if you have questions about bike rentals and repairs, or if you have issues checking in or out a bike. Use it.

Have fun. Whether you?re taking visitors on a quick riverfront spin or on your daily commute to work, enjoy your ride. After all, having fun is what bikes are all about.


Madison’s B-cycle program has been a huge hit with city residents and visitors.

Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.

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