If you’re taking a summer trip somewhere in the U.S., consider including a little road trip of the two-wheeled variety. Tourists and locals alike are exploring cities by bike, and it’s easier than ever thanks to bike-sharing systems popping up in large and mid-size cities. Bike shares allow anyone to quickly rent a bike for a short period of time. Users simply use a credit card to unlock a bike from a self-serve station, and return the bike to any bike share station. The convenience of short-term rentals and strategically placed stations make bicycles an ideal vehicle to explore downtown areas, where parking and traffic can be nightmarish.
And considering that vehicles release about 1.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, it’s good news for the environment if you take advantage of a bike share. When you opt to take a bike instead of a car, that’s one less car on the road — one less car idling in traffic, contributing to congestion, and emitting greenhouse gases. The environmental positives on top of the fun, convenience, and affordability of bike shares, beckon travelers to experience a great American bike trip.
Why Bike Now?
In just the past few years, more than thirty cities have installed so-called “third generation” bike shares — sophisticated systems that differ from earlier systems in their “use of technology for payment and tracking of bike availability at stations, solar power, and community involvement,” says Lesley Carlson of bike-share company Alta Bicycle Share. Alta is behind some of the country’s largest bike-sharing systems, including the two biggest: New York City’s Citi Bike and Chicago’s Divvy.
Early systems, like Amsterdam’s Witte Fietsen (“White Bikes”) system from 1965 or Copenhagen’s Bycyklen from 1995, employed little if any technology, and were plagued by theft and vandalism. Bike sharing in the smartphone era employs apps, electronic docking stations, and credit card kiosks. This technology not only makes bike sharing easy for the rider, but also prevents theft and damage by closely tracking users.
Now largely freed from the theft and damage problem, bike sharing offers most of the benefits of owning a bike without the un-fun parts — securing it, maintaining it, and transporting it. Making biking easy and convenient encourages more people to do it. “Even in very bike-friendly cities, bike sharing is increasing the number of people biking,” says Carlson. “As more and more people discover bicycling for transportation through bike sharing, the support for biking infrastructure and dedicated space on our roads will increase.” More biking means more bike lanes, which encourage more people to bike — a virtuous cycle that has only accelerated with the proliferation of bike shares.
It’s generally legal to share the road with cars and sidewalks (check out the American League of Bicyclists’ handy sheet of sidewalk riding laws), although you might prefer bike lanes if you’re uncomfortable sharing the road or you’re traveling with young or inexperienced riders.
Whichever city you’re visiting, research bike paths before you go to see if they run toward your destinations of interest. The Spotcycle app combines bike share system information (such as station locations), as well as a map of bike paths. Google Maps also has an underutilized option to show bike paths. Enable it on your desktop computer to do research, and enable it on your phone to use it for navigation.
Cities from coast to coast have bike shares of varying sizes, but the larger the bike share the more convenient it is to use. Consider adding these cities, which have some of the biggest systems in the U.S., to your itinerary and see the sights on two wheels:
Phoenix / GRID
Price: $7 for 1-hour pass, $10 for 7-day pass, $15 for 1-month pass, $25 for a 6-month pass for students.
Philadelphia / Indego
Price: $4 for 30-min pass, $15 for 1-month pass.
New York City / Citi Bike
Price: $12 for 24-hour pass, $24 for 3-day pass, $163 for annual membership.
Chicago / Divvy
Price: $9.95 for 24-hour pass, $99 for annual membership.
Washington, D.C. / Capital Bikeshare
Price: $2 for 30-min single trip, $8 for 24-hour pass, $85 for annual membership.
San Diego / DECOBIKE
Price: $5 for 30-min pass, $7 for 1-hour pass, $12 for 2-hour pass, $35 for 1-week pass, $50 for 1-month pass, $99 for annual membership.
Boston / Hubway
Price: $8 for 24-hour pass, $20 for 1-month pass, $99 for annual membership.
Denver / Denver B-cycle
Price: $9 for 24-hour pass, $15 for 1-month pass, $95 for annual membership.