Photo courtesy of Madison B-cycle.
All bicycle sharing systems share some common design challenges: creating a bicycle that will be comfortable enough for riders of a wide range of heights and that will remain in good repair while staying docked outdoors in all weather. Beyond these basics, it is also the unexpected challenges and rewards that make bicycle shares integral additions to the cities they serve. For the system designers, bike sharing is a way to spread the love of cycling to a broader population and to bring an extra measure of joy and beauty to urban life.
Creating inviting bicycles for people who are not regular riders is a major motivation for B-cycle, a bicycle share collaboration among Humana (a health insurance company), Trek Bicycle Corporation and Crispin Porter + Bogusky (an advertising agency). “If you haven’t gotten on a bike in a while and want to try it out, B-cycle is probably around the corner. You can take one out for a little spin,” said Claire Hurley, manager of Madison, WI, B-cycle.
The technology that allows B-cycle’s docking system to work includes a bonus for the community of bike share users and for the communities where B-cycle systems are installed. RFID chips and hub-powered GPS units provide the company with data on bicycle use. That same technology also feeds data back to the users. Members can track their statistics online and view their miles ridden, carbon offset, number of calories burned and dollars saved in gas. Hurley noted that this is “one of our most popular features with our annual members,” who have struck up friendships and friendly competitions on the membership-wide leaderboard rankings.
B-cycle can also share usage information with local planners to help them prioritize the most popular bicycle streets for infrastructure improvements. The fine-grained, unbiased data collected by the tracking devices on the shared bicycles would be difficult and costly for cities to gather by other means.
Bicycle shares can also add beauty to the urban environment. Industrial designer Michel Dallaire saw the design of Montreal’s BIXI bicycle share as an opportunity to create a system that was both innovative and aesthetically pleasing. According to Dallaire, “A good design is something that will give you pleasure. And the pleasure has a lot of dimensions.”
Dallaire, together with Canadian bicycle manufacturer Devinci, imagined a bicycle that would both resist corrosion and delight the eye. To achieve this, the bicycles are manufactured through aluminum hydroforming rather than extrusion, allowing creation of a multi-dimensional frame. “The schematic of the BIXI is the boomerang,” said Dallaire. “It is very sturdy, very robust and also very elegant.” The ergonomics were studied carefully. “This is not a racing bike,” Dallaire observed. “It is street furniture on wheels.”
The aspect of the system of which Dallaire is most proud is the ease of installation of the docking stations. “Using gravity to install a station is much cheaper,” said Dallaire, noting that “it takes an hour to remove the station to another location.” The base of each 4-bicycle docking module weighs about 800 pounds and is solar-powered: the weight is its own anti-theft device and it is independent of the city electrical grid. Thus, docking modules can be moved from one docking station to another as patterns of use emerge and change.