I used to cycle all the time in Bedford – not for recreation, but for transport. I cycled to school for a long time, I cycled to work, I cycled to the pub, I cycled home (somehow). I wouldn’t call myself a “cyclist”, except for the fact that everyone who cycles is a cyclist. But I didn’t have all the gear or a fancy bike, it was just to get around.
I never actually passed my cycling proficiency test. There’s a story there. On the day of the test, we were all cycling around the primary (elementary) school playground on our motley assortment of bikes, and performing maneuvers under the squinty eye of the local beat policeman. One maneuver involved looking back over your shoulder and indicating before moving out. When it came to be my turn, I looked over my shoulder, and saw the copper looking somewhere else entirely and not paying attention. Later, when the test results came out, it said that I had failed the test because I didn’t look back! Fuck the police.
I’ve had various bikes, from a battered Raleigh Chopper that nearly rendered me sterile, to a cobbled-together thing with a three-speed Sturmey-Archer dynamo hub, to a drop-handlebar tourer, to a Raleigh street bike (like a mountain bike, but for streets instead of mountains). I even had the standard European rattly shopping bike with a built in through-spoke ring lock attached to it (surprisingly unknown in the US) that I rode to college when I lived in Germany.
When I moved to London, I never really cycled again. I sold my bike, panniers, reflective sash thing and various other bits and pieces to a friend. Nearly fifteen years have passed. Now I’m cycling again.
In my old job, I would take the Transbay bus over the Bay Bridge, then walk the four blocks to my office. When I started my new job, it was the same, except when I got to my old office, I would then have to wait for another bus, or walk for another 20 minutes. I’m not mad keen on walking. When waiting for buses, I would see signs up saying that there would soon be a Bay Area Bike Share station on that particular corner. Sure enough, a few weeks ago the service was up and running, with hundreds of bikes and dozens of station around the place.
I started riding about 2 days after the service came on line. The delay was due to me not having received my helmet yet, and I’m not about the take the risk. On a friends recommendation I had ordered myself a Nutcase in matte green. They had plenty of fancy designs in matte and gloss, and for a while I was tempted to get a stars and stripes one just so I would look like the M.A.R.K-13 killer robot from Hardware.
I settled for subtle in the end, but I added an EFF sticker, because they can read my email, watch my twitter feed and follow me on Facebook, but they don’t get to read my mind! (yet)
When you sign up and pay your annual fee ($88, but there are other options), they send you an electronic key which allows you to unlock bikes from the stations. Because I was one of the first 1000 subscribers to the service, instead of a blue key I was sent a limited edition black one, which makes me kinda special I guess.
It’s going well so far. My route is slightly different, because rather than follow my old bus route, go directly through the city and deal with the traffic, I’m going out to the Embarcadero and riding on the dedicated cycle lane under the Bay Bridge and round onto Townsend, then all the way along to my office. Here’s my route, if you’re interested. It’s a nice ride, with the rising sun and bridge on my left side, and sleeping homeless people on my right.
I haven’t roamed too far from my regular commute route, but it has come in handy for other trips. For example, last week after an after-work appointment I was hurrying to catch the last Transbay bus to my street corner at 7.30, after which I would have had to get BART and then a cab to get home. I don’t think I would have made it had I not grabbed a bike and frantically pedalled the last few blocks, trailing sweat and curses in my wake.
I’ve made a spreadsheet to calculate how long it will take for the bus fare savings to pay for the yearly membership and the bike helmet, because of course I have. At $2 per bus ride saved, it will take 44 rides to pay for the $88 membership. Add to that the one-off cost of the helmet and reflective ankle trouser-protector things, and it becomes 85 rides. Here’s my progress.
I’ve assumed that I will make 8 rides per week, rather than 10, just to be a little conservative and factor in rides home, happy hours and BART rides. Still, I’m ahead of schedule at the moment, and I may have broken even by mid-November – and then it’s just savings all the way until September 2014, and next year it will be even easier without the initial cost of the equipment.
Winter may take its toll, but I’m looking forward to saving money, being fitter, and spending the first half hour of my day looking like this…