05 December 2008


I don't have a bike.

I used to wish I had a bike.

But now I don't need a bike! Because I have Bicing.

Bicing is--well, might as well get this out of the way first--stupidly named in a wrongheaded attempt to Anglicize a word by adding an -ing ending. See: Vueling (low cost airline) and "footing" for jogging. The French love to do this as well.

But aside from the name, it's really darn cool. You sign up for an account for just 24 euros for a year, and then you get a card which allows you to take a bike from any of the many stands around the city. You hold the card up to the little screen, it tells you to take bike no. X, and you go take the newly unlocked bike. You can ride around for a half hour for free (in which time you can get almost anywhere), and then it's a WHOPPING 30 cents per half hour after that, up to two hours. To return the bike, you just drop it into any slot. If there aren't any bikes to pick up or the stand is full when you want to return the bike, the screen tells you where to go (I've never had to walk more than five minutes to find another bike; and you can also locate the available bikes before leaving the house). Granted, I'm not a heavy user, and don't frequent what I imagine are the most in-demand bike stands, but I've never had a problem.

The downside is that some of Barcelona's streets are spectacularly bad for bike riding. Yesterday I got stuck going the wrong way on a long stretch of one-way road with a skinny little sidewalk, and got yelled at by a pedestrian.

Another downside is that everybody rides without helmets, and I'm kind of a scaredy cat when it comes to bikes, so I don't like the idea of riding on the busy streets.

But when you know where to go--the wide boulevards that have special bike paths right in the middle of them--the going is good. Today I took a bike from the stand around the corner from our apartment, and whizzed down the whole length of the Diagonal until I got to Passeig de GrĂ cia to meet the Mister. On days like this (don't hate me, but it was a sunny 65 today, and I didn't wear a coat) it's so much preferable to move through the city above ground instead of below ground (and I was sick of the metro, having forgotten the keys that I needed to get into the downtown apartment, which required an additional two rides).

Lately I've been using the metro to arrive at my destination, especially one in an unfamiliar part of the city, and then taking a bike back. I just start walking towards home, and at the first bike station I see, I grab a bike and continue on. I might get a little lost (like yesterday's misadventure), but I also get to know the city and its streets (which might come in handy someday if I actually have to drive around here).

I like Bicing for so many reasons, and have been really impressed with the city for this transportation initiative, because they've really done it right. The bikes are really sturdy and ride well, with easily adjustable seats and space for cargo in the front, and fitted with bells and lights. If there's any problem with the bike--the brakes aren't great, the seat won't adjust--it's super easy to swap it for another one. Almost every week I see a Bicing van towing a trailer full of new bikes, so I know they do a good job of replacing and refurbishing them.

It's also perfect for getting from a metro stop to a place further afield--somewhere not quite far enough to make switching metro lines several times worth it, but far enough to make walking a pain.

And everybody's into it! You can't walk five paces in this city without a red-and-white bike whizzing by. I might be riding one of them...

No comments: