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.

Cycling

This rambling monologue is a week late, but better late than never. So, last weekend I went riding in Melbourne with Kate and Claire. It was my first ride since arriving here about a dozen years ago. And it was great, but it was one of the worst rides I’ve ever had.

I might not have ridden in Melbourne before, but I assume that bikes here are meant to work pretty much like bikes anywhere else. I hired my bike from Hire a Bike (on the river near Fed Square, phone number 03 9654 2762). Initially it seemed okay, but a few minutes into the ride I found that the seat was loose and would rock backward and forward as my weight shifted. Then, when I was over an hour into the ride, the handlebars loosened and rotated. It made it impossible to ride it, but luckily we were stopping at around that point anyway.

We had ridden along the Yarra River to the Collingwood Childrens Farm and had lunch at Lentil As Anything cafe in the nearby Abbotsford Convent. The cafe wouldn’t lend me a spanner (I’m not sure they even knew what one was), but the adjacent bakery was kind enough to lend me one and I fixed the seat and handlebars. I bought some nougat and florentines from them in return, and because they were very tasty.

It was a beautiful day, and as we rode along the river, I saw Melbourne from a perspective that I’d never seen before. Cycling on the trail, you can almost feel that you’re in a different city. There are places where the river is peaceful, only a few, old houses can be seen, and the green banks hide the suburbs around. You won’t see these places if you drive in Melbourne, or travel by train, but only by being on that bike path.

It reminds me a little of when we were in London, and your mode of travel set your perspective on the city. If you travelled above ground, you would think the city was laid out completely diferently than if you just travelled on the Underground. And just before we left, we met someone who lived and travelled on London’s canal system. It would’ve been good to try that as well – I think it would’ve been pretty amazing.

Anyway, it was pretty amazing to cycle along the Yarra. Although after that loose seat, I had a really sore butt.