Joy Ride

Red Bike premieres as an alternative form of public transportation

click to enlarge Lilith Wiest rents a Red Bike from a B-station at The Banks.
Lilith Wiest rents a Red Bike from a B-station at The Banks.

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ed Bike is a new city-funded bicycle rental program spanning uptown, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. Bike sharing programs like Red Bike are a popular trend in metropolitan areas because it allows customers to check out a regularly maintained bicycle, ride it and then dock and electronically log/return it upon arrival at any official bike station in the service area. Red Bike customers pay $8 for 24 hours of “unlimited 60-minute rides” on one of the nonprofit’s custom red bicycles, or $80 for a yearly membership pass. If a Red Bike is stolen or lost while in your possession, you could be liable for up to $1,200 in reparations. The bikes are GPS enabled, though, so potential bike thieves should dispel the idea of stealing a Red Bike unless they want to be tracked back to their hideout.

In order to pay only $8 for a full calendar day of biking, you must return the bicycle to any of the stations every 60 minutes. Failure to do so will result in an automatic charge of $4 every 30 minutes until the bike has been checked-in at any of the city’s 30 “B-stations” (what the company calls its bike bays). The system is established in a way to offer convenience and novelty for a day of short trips inside the service radius.

(If there are any students at the University of Cincinnati who might consider using Red Bike, know that UC’s bike share program, Bearcat Bike Share, provides anyone with a valid UC ID card a bike free of charge for up to three days without incurring fees. No money or clock-watching necessary.)  

Mark Hooton, service manager of Campus Cyclery in Clifton Heights, says Red Bike is useful in encouraging more people to consider cycling.

“The person who doesn’t have $500 to get a bike [of their own] might pay $8 for a Red Bike,” he says. “It’s a utilitarian system ... more for running errands than long bike rides.”

The cycling community appears to have embraced Red Bike as a welcome addition to the city and Hooton believes it will influence more people to buy bikes of their own — definitely a good sign for his bike shop.

He’s not affiliated with Red Bike and figures he probably has no reason to use it (as he works in a bike shop), but Hooton’s excited about the new program. He enthusiastically uses his cell phone to demonstrate how Red Bike’s mobile app works. It’s a simple map with flags at every one of the B-stations in the area. Each station displays how many available bicycles are docked, so there are no surprises when you arrive.

And while the bike-share project is poised to be in good shape, it’s not as simple and risk free as it appears. When I recently rented a Red Bike, I was lucky enough to avoid Clifton drivers and bike thieves but the urgency to physically make it to a station within 60 minutes — coupled with my particular bike’s loose brakes — resulted in more stress than I’d anticipated from a simple bike ride. It should be assumed that most folks using Red Bike are not regular cyclists (if they were, they would just ride their own bikes) and their ability to reach certain destinations, considering some of Cincinnati’s steep hills, should be factored into the itinerary needed to effectively pay the base $8 rate without additional charges.

Also, Red Bike does not provide helmets for its customers. While a helmet is not legally required in Cincinnati for cyclists over the age of 18 (also the minimum age for Red Bike users), it’s widely accepted as a really good idea to wear one. In reality, most people utilizing this service probably won’t bring their own helmet because it seems like the only reason to own a helmet is linked with owning your own bike. Therefore, there’s a decent chance the streets of downtown and Over-the-Rhine will be more heavily populated with helmetless amateur cyclists, possibly intoxicated and excited at the novelty of such an experience.

It’s pretty hard to rent a car when you’re drunk, but Red Bike is a breeze (watch out, Main Street). It should also be emphasized that, yes, you can receive a ticket for drunken biking.

“Maybe Red Bike could hook up a breathalyzer to the bikes,” Hooton says with a laugh.

Despite these criticisms, Red Bike is a positive force in establishing Cincinnati as a city working to better accommodate cyclists. Cincinnati City Council approved a proposal by Mayor John Cranley to provide Red Bike with $1 million in start-up funds.

Even if this plan is not ideal for all cyclists’ situations, its B-stations are eye-catching landmarks now splattered throughout a portion of the city, creating more dialogue on healthier lifestyles and cleaner forms of transportation.

These bikes are intended for point-to-point trips, not long excursions. If you feel confident enough to go for a bike ride on a publicly shared bicycle, go for it. I recommend you check the bikes and kick the tires prior to approaching the rental terminal because there’s a rather limited amount of time allotted to remove the rented bike. Also try to observe how tight of a connection your brake pads make. Of course, if you check out a faulty bike it’s easy enough to replace: just check it back in and check another one out.

The yearly pass looks to be a great gift idea for anyone who doesn’t have a bike of their own, plus $80 is a lot less expensive than the price of a decent bicycle. ©

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