Portland BikeShare: 2nd Thoughts

Image result for portland oregon 2017 traffic slow down downtown

With the bizarre traffic maelstrom in Portland, Oregon this spring of 2017, anyone trying to get downtown via car, bus, or MAX Train will be in need of some calming medications to manage their enormous frustration.  Meanwhile, bike riders are the sole bearer of efficient transportation via Portland’s streets which are clogged with construction, lane closures, light rail track repairs, bridge anomalies, and highway shutdowns.

Nike “swoosh” on Portland’s Bikeshare logo

You would think this would mean that enterprising commuters would seek out alternative methods of arriving at their respective destinations, and that they might consider using Portland’s Nike funded “BIKETOWN” bikesharing program.  Think again.

Never have more clunky bikes been pawned off on the public.  These machines feature massive wheel flop (disastrous for bikes designed for a front end load), a 45 lb weight, and, worst of all, a sit up and beg riding position that makes only very tall riders able to master these bikes with relative safety.  I have ridden these bikes exactly 3 times, and hope to never ride one again.  And, that’s me – I love to cycle!  What is wrong with these bikes?  Just about everything.

In fact, my Dad’s 1965 2 speed Schwinn American would be a far more comfortable and efficient choice for anyone seeking passage through Portland’s beleaguered streets.  The riding position on this bike is adaptable to many cyclist’s sizes, and its geometry and excellent bullet proof steel construction means that it has lasted through decades of abuse and neglect.  The handling on this Schwinn is intuitive.  You just get on and ride.

Not true with these BikeTown bikes which were built by SoBi.  One commentator has this to say about these bikes:  “These clunky SoBi Social Bicycles look like they weigh a ton, and have the maneuverability of a circus elephant. With the ongoing costs, invasion of privacy and potential liability on the user’s end – you might want to consider alternatives.” – Hobeken 411.

Indeed, one thing that Portlanders noted right away was SoBi’s demand that users of its system waive their legal rights.   This is yet another reason to re-think whether or not you want to attempt to ride one of these machines.

Image result for brompton bicycle

Brompton Folding Bike

I am a strong supporter of public transportation as a “public good”, and I also support bike share programs as part of the solution to many of the challenges facing urban environments.  I served on TriMet’s budget advisory committee for years, and count public transportation advocates as friends and colleagues.  In short, I am the last person you would expect to criticize Portland’s Bikeshare program.  The problem with the program lies not in its conception, but in its execution.  I would love to see a bike share program designed around user friendly bikes, such as this Brompton folder, pictured above.  Interestingly, Portland’s Brompton retailer – Clever Cycles – offers Brompton rentals. I might try this out!

Obviously, any bikes which are to be used for bikeshare need extra technology and engineering, but there is no reason that should come as a sacrifice to ride-ability.  Having observed numerous riders attempting to master BikeTown SoBi bikes, and seeing their consternation I think its time for Portland to throw in the towel on SoBi, and re-think the Bikeshare program.  We need to offer bikes to all kinds of riders, not just to tall and fit riders who can physically overcome the poorly designed weaknesses of SoBi’s offering.

6 thoughts on “Portland BikeShare: 2nd Thoughts

  1. And let’s not forget that many tourists have stated that these are the first bikes they’ve ridden since childhood. Not the best reintroduction to the bliss of adult cycling.

  2. Portland’s streets which are clogged with construction, lane closures, light rail track repairs, bridge anomalies, and highway shutdowns…..

    In Seattle we call that Monday 🙂

    • Bikeshare bikes have to serve many masters. However, that is not a reason to optimize the design for a 5’10” or taller rider. Further complicating this SoBi design was Nike’s wish to have the front basket resemble a shoe box. The front end of the bike is heavy, consequently, and unless you are tall enough to put some weight on the super-high bars, you will find yourself wobbling about. Bikeshare is about a lot of things – technology, climate change, economic justice, urban renewal, among other issues, but if you want to attract riders, Bikeshare must always be about the bike, first and foremost.

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