Having fun with Bay Area Bike Share

Bay Area Bike Share at San Jose Diridon Caltrain

I almost feel like a little kid again when I get on one of the Bay Area Bike Share bikes. I can’t believe that these are here for my use, anytime! As a founding member and annual pass holder I am having fun using the new bike share program. Getting an annual pass wasn’t something that I needed, because it actually doesn’t work for me where I live in South San Jose, but I do attend meetings in Mountain View and Palo Alto and thought it would be the perfect way to get around in those cities.

I’ve had the pleasure of using the Bike Share bikes on a couple of outings to Palo Alto. I like the step-through bikes and the feeling of being upright, as well as the front holder for my bag. It’s been great because I haven’t had to worry about my own bike when taking Caltrain; getting it on the train, jockying for position on the racks, keeping a watchful eye so no one walks off with it. Best of all I haven’t had to worry about locking up my bike at my destination or getting it stolen.

I have found Bay Area Bike Share to be really easy to use. I just insert my key fob into the bike’s docking station, wait for the light to turn green, grab the seat and pull the bike up and out. Viola, I’m on my way!

I’ve realized, though, after hearing other people talking about the program, that the system may not be as intuitive as I think. The instructions on the Bay Area Bike Share website and on the kiosk are a good start, but SVBC member Janet Lafleur, from her experience, has put together some really helpful tips to know. I've paraphrased them here:

Undocking the Bike
With the annual pass, checking out a bike is quick and easy. Push your key fob into a slot on the bike's docking station and pull up and back on the seat to release the bike. Make sure the bike's kickstand is up first, so as not to bang your shin on the kickstand.

A day pass requires using the kiosk at the station, inserting a credit card, giving them your mobile phone number, and going through a lot of menus on the screen. In the end they give you a 5-digit code that you punch on the left side of the bike's dock. For trips later that day, you'll need to go back to the kiosk and insert your credit card to get a new 5-digit code. You will not be able to reuse your original code. At least there are fewer menus to click through on the second trip.

Watch the Clock
The thirty minute no-extra-charge period goes by quicker than you think, so this is not the best time for a leisurely ride. To maximize time, plan your route and where you'll dock your bike near your destination before you punch in your code or push in your key fob. You may want to adjust the seat height, put your bag in front holder, and put your helmet on before you undock the bike. And don't forget to note your start time.

If you do run longer than 30-minutes, the bike police aren’t going to track you down, but you will incur additional charges. At minutes 31-60, you will pay an extra $4 and at minute 61+ you will pay an extra $7 per 30 minutes (up to $150 per day). Which leads us into the next tip, Dock Surfing.

Dock Surfing
If you realize you may run over the 30 minute time limit, or know you'll need more than that to get to your destination, try dock surfing. Dock surfing is simply swapping out bikes at an intermediate station along your route. If you're a nervous Nellie and don't want the stress of rushing, plan for an intermediate stop. With an annual pass, it's pretty fast to grab a new bike.

Docking the Bike
Docking the bike at a station near your destination sounds simple–you just push the bike into an available dock–but it's easy to do it wrong. The trick is to line the bike up straight before pushing it in, hold both handlebars and push it in hard. You'll know you've done it right if the dock's green light turns on. To be sure it's docked, you can also tug back on the bike to see if it releases. That's the only way to tell for sure at a few docks that were facing into the bright sun's glare.

Bike Malfunctions
If you find that one of the bikes isn’t working properly, like your bike is stuck in the lowest gear and will not shift. Return it to the nearest station, push the repair button on the dock, and turn the seat around backwards. So if you see a bike with the seat turned 180 degrees backward, don't try to undock it.

Download the App
Download the CycleFinder app on your smart phone before your first trip. It shows station locations and number of available bikes and open docks in real time. It's pretty basic but useful. If it only integrated recommended bike routes it would be outstanding.

Security and Theft Prevention
Once you undock a bike you are responsible for the bike until it's docked again. So don't leave the bike unattended or locked anywhere other than an official station, and make sure it's docked correctly. Also, with a single and three day pass, don't let anyone see or hear your code number. If you are slow to type it in and undock a bike someone could use it before you. The same is true of an annual member key fob. Guard the key fob carefully and report it immediately if lost or stolen.

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