MELBOURNE’S BIKE SHARE SYSTEM – my road test

This isn't me. It's the lady on the website who seems to be very happy with the system.

I had a day in Melbourne and a few things I wanted to do around town, so I tried out their much-maligned city Bike Share system.

I’d heard all the complaints and the reasons it would never work. ‘The bikes are too heavy.’ ‘If you want to ride you’ll have your own bike.’ ‘Visitors won’t know how to work the system’. And the perennial biggie: ‘It will never take off while helmets are compulsory.’ Well, we’ll see…

Step one for me was to check the website before I left Sydney. My first question, ‘Where can I pick up a bike and a helmet?’

The website told me:
‘We have listened to your feedback and a downloadable map is now available. The map is easy on the eye and lists all of the stations, helmet outlets, along with formal and informal bike paths. Print it out and keep it with you, we reckon this map will become an invaluable companion for all Melbourne Bike Sharers.’

Then came a glitch. To download the easy-on-the-eye map I was invited to ‘click here’. I clicked there and got ‘The requested page could not be found.’

Undeterred, I clicked on some of the exciting-sounding bike tour suggestions (Culture Craving tour, Feed Me tour, Retail Rejuvenation tour, Spiritual Guide tour, Park Your Bike tour) and found they all had the map I wanted. I printed it off and found I could almost read it without my glasses in outdoor light on a cloudy day.

This chap on the website knows how it all works.

Armed with map, I flew to Melbourne, took the shuttle bus from Tullamarine to Southern Cross Station in the city, and found a rack of smart blue bikes outside it.

The helmet issue surfaced. I know you can get them from Seven-Eleven stores and a vending machine at the station but finding them was tricky for an out-of-towner.

Fortunately I found an abandoned helmet hanging on one of the blue bikes. (They only cost $5 and you get a $3 refund when you return them. No surprise that many people don’t bother.)

I bravely stuck my credit card in the machine by the rack and bought a day pass for $2.50. For this modest outlay I got a code to punch into the rack by my chosen bike.

There were plenty to choose from. The bikes all looked in good condition, but some had cobwebs on them. The poor bikes apparently don’t get out much.

I picked my steed, punched in the number and pulled it out. Pleasant surprise. It had 3 gears and handbrakes. I’ve used the city bikes in Copenhagen and they weren’t nearly as good as this one.

For the rest of the day I rode around town, to Queen Victoria Market, up to the Melbourne Museum, down town to Federation Square, round the Yarra to the MCG. I even slipped in there for free to watch the end of a Sheffield Shield cricket match.

Then round the Botanic Gardens and up St Kilda Rd to Southbank.

It took a little while before I realised there was an extra trip charge if you kept the bike for more than half an hour. I think I only got caught on this once, however.

If you slot your bike into any of the racks around town within the half hour, it’s free to pull another bike out during the day. All the bikes I had were in perfect order.

If the rack is full (as it often was in Copenhagen – a bore) you insert the credit card again and you get another 15 minutes to ride to another one. This was not too bad on a fine day – no station was more than 15 minutes from any other.

In short – I found it an excellent system and hope it prospers. I saw a few others using it, mostly tourists.

The helmet thing is a most unfortunate disincentive. I felt extremely unlikely to have a brain-threatening fall at slow speed on my upright bike on a cycle path. And how much would a $5 helmet protect me anyway?

But understandably no politician would dare repeal the compulsory helmet law now. The first head injury would be splattered all over the front pages.

My recommendation – just quietly and informally tell the police to stop enforcing the law and let cyclists decide for themselves how they’d like to ride. If they come to grief, it will be on their own heads.

Meanwhile, if you’re visiting Melbourne, get one of those bikes and try it. I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.

19 Comments

Filed under Cycling, Travel-Australia

19 responses to “MELBOURNE’S BIKE SHARE SYSTEM – my road test

  1. We have the scheme in Brisbane and those bikes don’t get out much either. I’m sure it is an excellent idea, but it is going to take a long time to catch on, meanwhile investors are losing money. The tea company that advertises on the bikes seems quite happy though.

    • I’d have no problem with advertising on the bikes, Debra. Some of the Copenhagen bikes carry ads, though they are bikes with solid wheels instead of spokes – good place to put an ad, but it makes for a heavier bike.

      Anything to subsidise what should be a great system is worth pursuing. I had my problems with the Copenhagen experience (damaged bikes, full racks etc) but their city bikes were clearly really popular.

      Cycling in Melbourne seems to be growing fast, and this scheme should be a great addition to it, especially for visitors like me.

    • Velo Bones

      what investors?

  2. G’day Richard

    Tried a Melbourne bike share bike for the first time last week.
    Normally my daily ride is a fully loaded Xtracycle – 2 kids and shopping, sometimes – so I’m used to riding with gearing options aplenty.
    My first bike as a kid was a Malvern Star gents roadster which was fine with a Sturmey Archer 3-speed.
    The reason I was using the bike share bike was because I was participating in a charity race, called Suit Up And Ride http://www.suitupandride.com.au/ and 3 gears just wasn’t enough!
    And the helmet situation? I’ve worked as an RN for almost 30 years, so I know the consequences of an acquired brain injury: to helmet or not to helmet is a question of aesthetics, rather than inconvenience.
    Although an ABI is pretty inconvenient.

    Have you tried the Adelaide bike share bikes? In the whole fleet they have only one bike with a child carrier – which seems crazy.

    cheers

    Richard

    • Thanks for the visit and comment, Richard. I’m very happy to wear a helmet, and always do while riding in Australia. But if it deters a others who don’t want to mess up their hair from cycling, there is a consequent loss to public health generally. I’m sure you’ve heard all these arguments, as I have, a lot of times.

      And of course 3 gears won’t get you up the big hills (I had to get off and push heading up from the Yarra at one point) but for most of Melbourne CBD my legs were up to the task.

      Anyway, I do hope the system grows and gets used. Well done, you and me, for doing our little bits!

    • PS. I just had a look at Suit Up and Ride on the website (link above). Gee, I’m sorry I missed the chance to ride a Melbourne Bike Share bike in the race against Cadel! Next year, maybe?

  3. Michelle

    Hi Richard,

    Having visited Melb a few times recently for work (from Syd) – and carrying my helmet down each time, and… never quite getting around to it – I’ve done all the preparation for using the bike share, and plan to when I’m down this weekend.

    So I can tell you that, somewhere on their website, there is actually a link to a free app called Spotcycle which not only has a map of where you can pick up/drop off bikes but updates it constantly so you know whether the docking station you’re heading to actually has what you need. Genius idea (if you have the right mobile technology) and also works in other cities with bike share schemes (from memory it also covers Portland, Copenhagen and a few others).

    Cheers,
    Michelle

    • Thanks, Michelle, yes I saw that the app will tell you how many bikes and spaces are at a particular point. Excellent idea, although (1) I didn’t have the mobile technology and (2) only once during the day did I find a rack full.

      It will be useful if and when the scheme is getting far more use, however.

  4. You used an abandoned helmet, this might not be the most sanitary way to ride a bike share bike :) Is there another way? YES!
    Check out http://www.sandvault.com – we are just about to launch our helmet solution, for bike share!

    • Thanks for the visit, link and advice, dmoennick,

      There is only one helmet vending machine in the Melbourne system, located at Southern Cross Station, behind glass, behind the bikes, behind me. So finding the abandoned helmet was easier. (It was nit-free too, it seems).

      More helmet vending machines are needed, and they need to be located right beside the bike racks, where potential bike hirers will see them.

  5. Those helmet dispensing machines sound good, essential even. I came upon some tourists in Melbourne yesterday ready to use the bike share bikes, but with no idea how to get a helmet.

  6. Hi Richard,
    Your experience sounds like mine in Dublin , easy to use and nice for a ride in the city. Luckely enough the helmet issue doesn’t exist in Dublin, the public bicycles are a big succes. Your solution to helmets and enforcement sounds very Dutch, you might introduce the word “gedogen” to the cops.
    Herbert

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