New York City’s Citi Bike bike share program opened today with huge fanfare from supporters and grumbling from skeptics. With over 15,000 new annual members already subscribed at $95 a pop, I’d say the program is off to an amazing start of the most ambitious roll-out stateside of a bike share: 6,000 bikes in 300 stations.
While most of the skeptics are people who don’t want to lose valuable parking spots to bikes docking stations, some are cyclists who can’t see themselves riding bikes that are 45 pounds of clunky slowness, and who don’t look forward to navigating the crowded streets of NYC with a bunch of newbies on bikes. What’s in it for them?
Plenty. Susi Wunch gave some good reasons for cyclist to use bike share: for riding on spontaneous trips, for riding with non-cyclist friends and out-of-town guests, and for riding that last mile in areas not well served by transit. David Byrne, lead singer of Talking Heads and NYC bike advocate, adds that they’ll be convenient when it rains and you don’t want to take out your own bike and leave it in the wet.
But both missed one important reason for using bike share vs your own bike, which Dick and I learned the hard way in San Francisco today. Here’s a hint: What’s missing in this picture?
Yep, someone stole the saddles off our bike while they were parked outside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art today. We wanted to catch China’s Terra Cotta Warriors at the Asian Art Museum before they closed today and to see the Gerry Winogrand photography exhibit before SF MOMA closes for 2.5 years next weekend.
I was worried about parking our bikes at the Asian Art Museum since it’s near City Hall in the notorious Mid-Market/Tenderloin neighborhood. But it was in the more respectable SOMA where we lost our saddles. We U-locked our bike frames to sturdy racks, ran cable locks through our front and back wheels. As I walked away, I was pleased that we brought our saddle covers that not only would protect our high-end Brooks B17 and Selle Anatomica saddles from the threatening rain, but also disguise them as more ordinary saddles. It didn’t work.
Unlike NYC, San Francisco’s planned bike share is far more modest at only 35 stations vs 300 stations. The SF program has been criticized for not going big enough, and that may limit its success indeed. But it would have worked for us today. We made four stops in the city today and each had a bike station within a few hundred feet.
We could have grabbed a SF bike at Caltrain station, ridden to the Ferry Building and docked it while we ate breakfast, then grabbed another SF bike for the trip to the Asian Art Museum. Ditto for the SF MOMA and then back to Caltrain. We could have taken four bikes for four trips and all for no more than the basic membership fee since all trips were within 30 minutes riding time. (That’s close to what we did in Paris on the Velib bikes)
But most important: our personal bikes would have been safe from cruel bike thieves.
We didn’t have much time to recover from the shock of our bikes’ violation. We had a train to catch! Riding out of the saddle across the pothole-infested South of Market section of downtown San Francisco for the mile back to the Caltrain station, and then another mile to get home from Caltrain in Mountain View is not a trip I care to repeat. Lessons learned: you can’t safely use hand signals out of the saddle, potholes are more dangerous, and my ankles get tired faster than my thighs. I’m glad I was wearing sensible flats instead of heels.
Now we’re left assessing the damage and scraping up replacement parts. Two seatposts, two saddles, two saddle rain covers, two seat packs with multitools, spare tube and patch kits, and a tailight on Dick’s bike. Dick doesn’t want to add up the total cost of our loss but I’m guessing it’s between $500 and $800.
Have you ever had something stolen off your bike? Or even your whole bike? Did it change how you locked your bike or where you parked it?