In a bustling metropolis, getting around in your own car can be damn near impossible, and parking fees can raid your wallet like a robust viking in a meter-reader's uniform. For medium-to-long-range trips, taxis and public transportation can be lifesavers, but they can still cost an arm and a leg, may waste time on an indirect route, and frequently rely on good old-fashioned fossil fuels. Bike-share systems can be a great alternative: You get some good cardiovascular exercise, you save some coin, and you get to look smug as you sail past lines of horn-honking dead-dinosaur-burners.
With the blessing of Mayor Karl Dean, Nashville B-Cycle, Nashville's own bike-share system, went live at noon yesterday, with festivities including a ride from Public Square Park to the Farmers' Market and back. Funded through a federal grant called Communities Putting Prevention to Work, the program is administered by the Metro Public Health Department and managed by the private nonprofit Nashville Downtown Partnership. B-Cycle is itself an LLC created by a joint venture between cycle-builder Trek and health insurance conglomerate Humana. Over a dozen metro communities from North Carolina to Hawaii have licensed the B-cycle system, which consists of solar-powered automated kiosks that handle bike rental via credit or debit card.
Put in a good mood by the sunshine, and in dire need of a leg stretch, I decided to give B-cycle a shot on my lunch break. Hankering for a sandwich and lacking any foresight or planning, I started punching my way through menus on the touchscreen of the kiosk outside TPAC, and in less than two minutes, I was cruising up Sixth Avenue. The sturdy Trek cruiser was painted a cheerful red, with an easy-shift three-speed transmission, front and rear hand brakes, a sturdy metal basket, a no-tools-required adjustable seat post, and the piece-de-resistance, a classic thumb-operated bell. The seat was a little stiff, but nice and broad, and the handlebars designed for a comfortable, upright posture favored by casual riders like myself. Wind in my beard and beaming with pride, I felt (and probably looked) not unlike Pee Wee Herman choogling my way to the Farmers' Market.
To get the most out of the service, some planning is advisable. Impulse shoppers beware: The minimum commitment is for a 24-hour pass, which will set you back $5, while a week is only $10, a month $15, and a year $50. The bike includes a lock so you can park it safely anywhere. However, presumably to keep more bikes available and lower the risk of theft, you must re-dock the bike at a B-cycle station within an hour of picking it up, or else you'll be charged $1.50 for every additional half-hour, up to $45 per day. The bulk of the stations are concentrated around Downtown and Broadway, with a paltry one station each in outlying areas like Five Points, Jefferson Street on the Fisk campus, and Hillsboro. Nothing on Eighth Avenue or 12th South? No Marathon Village? Bummer! Hopefully strong patronage numbers will lead to expansion.
Though thoroughly pleased with my trip, I did have to eat a bit of crow with my po'boy. Apparently, in a hurry and not reading the directions, I failed to properly reinstall the bike in the stable; though it was locked in place, the system was under the impression that it was still checked out, and I couldn't retrieve it. A call to the customer service number got me straightened out, and I was on my way.
Final thought: The service can rent you a bike, but it can't make you a cyclist. Traffic wasn't bad on my short trip, but cycling in busy traffic is not for the faint of heart. You will also need your own helmet. Besides planning your route to accommodate B-cycle stations, I advise you consider your own fitness: I was wheezing and red-faced by the time I got back up the Rosa Parks hill to Church Street.