Bike Shares: Riding Through the World’s Greatest Cities
China does it. So do Israel, Argentina and most countries across Europe. Even the U.S. has stepped up to the plate. Bike sharing -- which debuted in 1960s Amsterdam and promptly flopped, before rising again in Copenhagen in 1995 -- is a certified hit worldwide. And why not? Bike sharing is cheaper than traditional bike rentals, and more convenient too. Sharers can pick up and return bikes at automated stations located throughout a city, day or night.
Not only is bike sharing good for the environment, it's a great way for visitors to take in city sights. Here are some of the brightest cities with the best bike share programs:
Boasting more bicycles than people, Holland’s famously lively, liberal capital is widely known as the most bike happy city in the world. Using two-wheeled transport there is easy -- dedicated bike lanes wind everywhere, including along picturesque canals, and the land is flat.
As Sebas van der Sangen, Amsterdam international press officer, explains, "It feels like a metropolitan city, but everything is close. If you rent a bike you can get from Centraal Station to Museum Square in fifteen minutes."
The Netherlands’ beloved national bike share program, OV-fiets, is designed for commuters but available to visitors. Even with the 10 euro annual fee, it’s pleasingly inexpensive -- just 3.15 euro a day. There are 13 OV-fiet locations in Amsterdam, and the one at Centraal Station offers 400 bikes. It’s within minutes from the famed gay leather bars and fetish shops on Warmoesstraat, including Mister B, which features a wide selection of gear and a surprisingly friendly atmosphere.
It might seem a tad counterintuitive to think about biking though Dublin. After all, with all those wonderful pubs serving up all those delish pints of rich, creamy Guinness, bike wheels might tend to get a bit wobbly. But from its inception in September 2009, the city’s bike share program has been a smash success.
Dubbed dublinbikes, it began with 450 bicycles at 40 stations and is now in the midst of a major expansion that will eventually bring 5,000 bikes to stations located as far out as the suburbs.
Like any good bike share program, dublinbikes is super cheap. A year-long membership costs 10 euro, a three-day membership, just 2 euro. The first 30 minutes on a dublinbike are free; after that there is a small surcharge for each hour used. The George, Ireland’s first gay bar and a Dublin institution for more than 25 years, is just a couple blocks northwest from dublinbike station No. 9 on Exchequer St.
New York City
Citi Bike, launched last May, might be a Johnny-come-lately to the world’s bike share programs but it’s making up for lost time. The program kicked off with 6,000 bikes at more than 300 stations. It’s now the largest bike share system in North America, and has already amassed more than 6.5 million trips.
Notes Dani Simons, director of marketing and external affairs for NYC Bicycle Share, operators of Citi Bike, "Citi Bike has rapidly become a way of life for busy New Yorkers. This summer we look forward to introducing Citi Bike to more visitors and showing tourists how fun and easy exploring New York by bike can be."
The program offers two passes ideal for visitors: a 24-hour access pass for $9.95 and a 7-day access pass for $25. The first 30 minutes are free; after that overtime fees accrue.
The program is not without its controversy. The New York Daily News reported last month that the program, overseen by Alta Bicycle Share, has had its share of difficulties, including lack of funds and significant operational issues. But when it works, Citi Bike is one of the best ways to navigate the city that never sleeps.
In Frankfurt, bike sharing is so popular that there are two programs in the city. Call-a-Bike features 700 bikes available 24 hours a day at stations extending from the inner city to outlying districts. Prices begin at 4 cents per minute. nextbike got underway in Frankfurt in 2006 with 150 bikes. That number has been steadily rising. "Last season we had 300 bikes at 35 rental points," says nextbike Marketing Director Mareike Rauchhaus, "and around 30,000 rentals by more than 8,000 customers."
By May, nextbike expects to have 500 of its bikes on Frankfurt’s streets at a cost of 1 euro for the first 30 minutes and every 30 minutes thereafter, or 9 euro per day.
Both nextbike and Call-a-Bike have stations close to Frankfurt’s gay neighborhood, the Bermuda Triangle, where the city’s gay hotspot of the moment, CK Studio sits. Just down the street is the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, a gay and lesbian bookstore that often hosts readings by prominent authors.