Cheaper than treadmills at the gym

I’m unlike 99% of other Melbourne residents because I’ve used the city’s bike share scheme. In fact, I’ve used it four times now, and I’m a happy customer.

The scheme’s mission is to establish an alternative transport system to things like taxis and trams, but it hasn’t exactly been a raging success. A recent article in The New York Times on bike sharing reported that the Melbourne Bike Share gets about 150 rides a day, and since the scheme offers 600 bikes, at least 75% remain stationary on a given day. That article blames Australia’s helmet laws, but I think bike sharing just hasn’t found the killer application yet.

I don’t use Melbourne Bike Share for transport reasons – I use it for exercise. Instead of paying, say, $19 / week to go to the gym and use a treadmill, I jump on a bike for $2.60 a session, whenever I want. There is an additional cost for a helmet, but that’s just $5 from the nearby 7-Eleven convenience store, so hardly counts in the scheme of things. The whole arrangement seems to be fantastic value.

However, when I’ve been out riding at lunchtime, I haven’t seen another soul using Bike Share bikes. The idea of using them for casual exercise doesn’t seem to have caught on yet. I’m thinking it’ll be like boot-camps in the parks – suddenly all the exercise junkies will realise the value of this public resource and it will be difficult to get in for normal uses.

I know that no-one reads my blog, so I’m not worried about tipping off the world, and hence preventing my own use of the bikes. This is more establishing the evidence of my own use now, so later I can prove that I was in front of this trend. Yes, it’s all about me.

But in case someone is reading this, I thought I’d share some other observations.

Firstly, the 30 min “free” trip length that you get with a $2.60 day pass is not really enough for a good exercise, since down-hill and flat roads plus traffic lights mean I get, at best, two-thirds of the time doing productive up-hill riding. Also, half the time I’ve been a couple of minutes late, meaning I’ve been charged an extra $2 as a result. So, I’m thinking of paying the $52 for an annual pass, which gives you 45 min “free” ┬átrips. (I note that the corporate plan at $100 provides for 60 min “free” trips along with the ability to share it between people, so this option may be better still.) In theory, you could also plan an exercise route that took you past multiple bike stations, where you could swap your bike, starting the clock again.

There are some annoying glitches in the set-up that suggest to me hardly anyone uses this, or they would’ve gotten fixed. For instance, I found when I reached a bike station for the first time that the helmet I got from 7-Eleven had packaging that needs scissors to remove. Also it turned out I’d gotten the wrong size helmet and had to exchange it. The instructions at the bike station terminal when you enter your credit card for a day pass has the message “insert card” on the screen when in fact you need to remove the card to continue. You need to accept a long legal agreement (80 screens at seven lines per screen) each time you rent the bike. My bike code print-out has gotten stuck inside the machine, and I’ve needed to get it to print me another receipt in order to push it out. As a result, people who plan to use the Bike Share just the once, like tourists, may find this all too hard.

As someone who hasn’t owned a bike for something like 20 years, the irony isn’t lost on me that I’m enthusing about bike riding, but as I’ve given the Melbourne Bike Share a go over the last couple of weeks, I’ve come to appreciate it. Melbourne has some rather pretty streets and paths, and my experience riding around in the scenic outdoors sure beats the time I spent pounding on treadmills.

6 thoughts on “Cheaper than treadmills at the gym”

  1. I suspect some of the non-use has to do with positioning; the bike scheme is not positioned as a potential exercise session – it’s essentially positioned as an alternative to public transport, which I think is a losing battle in all cities with decent public transport (and despite Melburnians opinions otherwise, it does have decent public transport at least where the bikes are ;)

    Maybe if it was billed as you use it, as an ultra-cheap and convenient gym membership, the take-up would be bigger too?

    1. Yes. Looking at the bike stations’ locations, there’s nowhere that I’d want to travel to that I couldn’t also get to by tram. Perhaps it has the advantage that bikes are available in the early hours of the morning when trams stop running. Although, you’d have to bring your own bike light.

  2. I love the Melb Bikeshare scheme – except when I forget to check if a vacant slot awaits and the rack turns out to be full. With the day planned to the last minute, rerouting to a different rack is suboptimal. But I would be horrified if the scheme were ever shutdown.

    1. I haven’t run into that problem yet. Although, it makes me think I should get the Bike Share app to be prepared in case something like that happens.

  3. I don’t quite follow the complexities of the payment system… Are you saying that a “day pass” only allows you to use the bikes for 30 minutes?!?

    Are the bikes stationed near dedicated bicycle paths, or just inner city streets? I would have thought the big thing that would put people off would be having to ride on busy roads shared with cars and trucks. I only started riding a bike regularly when I moved to a city that had an extensive bike path network.

    1. The idea is that a day pass gets you access to bikes all day from the scheme, but each trip on a bike needs to be less than 30 minutes or you get charged an additional fee for hogging the bike.

      The bike stations are positioned around city areas, where there are few bike paths, but there are often bike lanes. However, some of the bike stations are on the fringe of the city area where it is only a short distance to bike paths. Personally, I’ve been riding around East Melbourne which, at lunch time, is pretty deserted and feels completely safe to ride on the road.

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