I recently returned to the ‘Cuse from a trip through the Southern U.S., stopping in Atlanta and Nashville, as well as some other cool cities. In Nashville, I stayed with friends (thanks for giving me a place to crash, Alli and Jon!), but it was during their school and work weeks, so it was up to me to amuse myself in the city during the day.

That was totally understandable and totally cool, because in Nashville they have a bike share system called B-cycle. As far as bike shares go, this one follows a common standard set by other major metropolitan areas.

Utility Models

The bikes are utilitarian, three-speed cruisers. The rental terms specify that bikes must be returned and stored at automated bike racks throughout the city. Once you pay for a membership (a 24-hour rental, a 7-day, 30-day, or annual membership), you can keep the bike away from the racks for an hour. Any time past 1 hour costs extra; each 30-minute interval is $1.50. Helmets are recommended but not required (for adults) or provided by B-cycle.

I pedaled my way throughout Midtown, around Vanderbilt and other medical centers, past the state capital, and all the way across the river to the east to check out Fivepoints on that bike. I had a blast shopping, chatting with locals in Centennial Park, and eating delicious food along the way. My very positive experience with B-cycle was just one of many bike-sharing possibilities across the country. B-cycle also provides bikes in Denver, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Austin, and many other U.S. cities. But there are many other options, and some cities are incorporating new technologies to make their bike share programs more marketable and more digitally-connected.

Improving a Successful Concept

Copenhagen's new Gobike, credit flickr user aka Jens Rost

Copenhagen’s new Gobike, which is wirelessly connected to a city-wide network, and includes a theft-proof navigation and notification tablet.

Copenhagen, Denmark is well-known as the bike capital of the world, a place where there’s just as much reason for pedestrians to stay the heck out of bike lanes as the motor vehicle lanes. Many people in the city own their own bicycles, but the city has also invested serious time and money into its bike share fleet.


Navigation system on GoBike/ via gobike.com

Gobike, the company behind its program, has reimagined the city’s fleet to attract non-bicycle lovers and the tourists. The bicycles are wirelessly connected, with a screen mounted on the handlebars that provides user-friendly navigation and a notification system to riders. They also have a motor for helping riders up hills, and digital locks so users don’t have to search for a docking station; they can leave the bike anywhere without worrying about theft.

Other U.S.-based companies are taking cues on digital connection. Social Bicycles, or “sobi,” uses a computer mounted on each bicycle to socialize the city biking experience, allowing users to share miles ridden, calories burned, CO2 reduced, and money saved by each ride. It also permits parking at any bike rack in its service area, and allows wireless reservation and searches for available bikes. Because sobi’s product does not necessitate building specialized docking systems, they say it’s a fraction of the cost of systems like B-cycles, where special space must be allocated and docks installed.

Bike-Shares at SU!

The trend has even reached the Syracuse area. The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry began a small-scale bike sharing program in August of 2013, where students could pay an annual membership of $20, and take one of five bikes from the ESF library for one-hour periods.

Rumors swirled for a while that Syracuse University may be considering a similar service for students–and as of October 16, a tentative plan to do that has been confirmed!

Rick Martin, a principal project analyst and self-described “sustainability evangelist,” has confirmed that there is a plan is to roll out a small pilot bike share program at SU in Spring 2015. The new program is being packaged as part of the Fast Forward Syracuse initiative and the Campus Master Plan.

Martin says the goal for right now is to start lending bikes when the snow has melted next spring. The bikes will be low-tech at first for this effort, with five or six bikes available for checkout at Archbold South. Students, faculty and staff will be able to check out a bike for one day free of charge, on a first-come, first-served basis. U-bolt locks will be provided to keep the bikes secure. According to Martin, purchasing locks will be the program’s largest fixed cost.

Re-Use Plan

“The plan right now is to re-use bikes that have been abandoned on campus, but are still in good shape. The locks are the largest initial investment,” Martin said. Program participants can expect to see a variety of bicycle makes, models, and sizes (some 26-inch, some smaller), so he and his team can get a better feel for what bikes people prefer.

Martin says he hopes the program will be an excellent way to collect data, to get a better idea of when, where, and the average distances people ride the bikes. “We want to find out the focal points, highly-trafficked areas for people, and get a better idea of the range of use for the bikes in the program,” Martin said. Eventually, if the program is a success, Martin wants to use GPS technology to track the bikes for research purposes and security purposes in case one is missing or stolen, however he’s careful to point out that identifying information of the riders would be private, except in missing-bike situations, he conveyed.

The hope is that this experimental new venture will have overwhelming interest. As Martin observed, “The best thing that can happen when this program starts is for the rental desk to open at 10, and have all the bikes gone by 10:15. That way we can say, not only do we have a huge student demand, but here’s proof!”

Have you used a bike share program in an urban environment in the U.S.? How about abroad? What did you think, and how do you feel bikesharing experiences could be improved?