Thursday, September 01, 2011
Last weekend we happened to pass one of the Trek-sponsored Madison B-cycle kiosks in Vilas Park and noticed they were offering a free trial, so we whipped out our credit cards and hopped aboard.
To my eye the front ends are kind of klunky looking. Ugly, in fact. But they're nice three-speed Trek commuter bikes, comfortable to ride, with a three-speed Shimano hub and disc brakes. Trek did a nice job of setting up the system at no cost to the city, and the bikes are well-maintained. Occasionally, when passing one of the kiosks I see someone giving them regular routine maintenance and filling the tires. Most solid rental bikes I've ever ridden.
Our free trial consisted of a 30-minute "trek" around Vilas Park. After that, the meter would kick in, so we made sure we returned them on time. (Theoretically with our free day pass, we could have hopped from B-cycle kiosk to kiosk and ridden free all day, in 30-minute increments. But we had plans and took the bikes back on time.
Since we have our own bikes and live near several bike paths, we're not likely to use them enough to buy either an annual or a monthly pass, without which the rates are prohibitive. The bikes do seem like a nice public amenity for Madison. If I commuted downtown to work, I could see buying a pass and then taking one for a 30-minute spin (no additional charge) or even an hour ($2 fee) to run errands over the noon hour. And it would seem to work well for tourists who aren't too concerned about price and want a bike for short hops. Anybody looking for a day rate would be well advised to go to a bike shop instead -- for example, Budget Bicycle Center rents bikes for $20 per day, vs. B-cycle's $75 per day.
I was pretty skeptical when Mayor Dave originally announced the joint venture with Trek, which would have required $100,000 per year from the city for three years. Not so much of the concept, but of the cost to the city. Since the B-cycle is largely a self-funding demo program for Trek bikes, I didn't see why they couldn't pick up the entire cost themselves. Mayor Soglin apparently agreed and got Trek to eliminate the cost to the city.
Is this is a good fit for Madison? So many people downtown, where most of the kiosks are, have their own bikes and actively use them. I'm not sure that we generate the kind of downtown tourist traffic that the kiosks are likely to generate in a bigger city. Certainly most of the kiosks seemed under-utilized this summer, but maybe they take time to catch on. Time will tell.