There is something awesome to be said about a shared bike scheme, and this month saw the launch of Belfast’s very own Belfast Bikes, operated by NextBike.
You don’t have to: find a place to lock it, be afraid of someone stealing it, go back to fetch it, have a place to store it at home (especially if you live in an apartment) and worry about not being able to take someone up on an offer for a lift home, since you won’t have to worry about leaving your bike.
It has larger scale effects as well: it makes city access easier than ever, hopefully decreasing traffic congestion in the long run, making the city fun to explore for tourists (boosting that industry) and generally getting people who hate walking 30 minutes to work and would rather take the bus, consider the more active and healthy route of cycling for 10 minutes instead.
I think that all in all, it’s a brilliant system.
Belfast introduced 30 docking stations throughout the downtown area and the system itself is fairly simple; you can choose between two types of subscriptions 3-day (at a price point of £5) or one year for a mere £20.
Once you have selected and payed for your subscription you go to any docking station and enter your phone and pin number. At this point the screen provides you with a unique bike number (as written on the bikes themselves) and you simply have to get the bike and cycle on.
The first half hour of use is free and every subsequent half hour is charged with an exponential increase in price, starting at £0.50/half hour. You can however return the bike before the 30 minutes are up and simply select a new one, restarting the whole cycle and never paying an additional penny.
The “insurance” for the bike, in case of theft or damage, is that NextBike is authorized to take £120 from the bank account with which you signed up, if you neglect to return the bike after 72 hours or it is reported to be damaged after your last use.
Now, I did have a concern about where to park the bike if the docking stations are full, given that I didn’t fancy cycling to the next station in search of a spot. This problem has a unique solution. The bikes are all equipped with standard numeric bike locks, each with a unique code. When you rent a bike, you receive a text message to the phone number associated to the account, verifying not only the bike number but providing you with the lock pin as well. You can use this lock, to lock the bike at the nearest standard bike station, then all you do is call the toll free number, tell them where you have locked which number bike and you move on with you day. A designated crew will come around to collect the bike later in the day.
The bikes themselves are standard city bikes, with comfortable adjustable seats & handles, easy steering, front & rear lights, as well as a convenient front basket attachment, with flexible stretch ropes for larger items. Both my husband and I, who are built very differently, find the bikes pleasant to ride.
The system has a few glitches, but I am going to put them down to early system hiccups, such as 3 of the docking stations not actually allowing me to pay for my subscription (forcing me to do it online), the docking stations having faulty pins that occasionally block you from returning a bike and the toll free number taking ages to get through to a person.
Other than that, I am very very happy with my annual subscription and enjoy the freedom of travelling by bike without any of the tedious responsibilities that come with owning one.
As an additional bonus, the partnership with NextBike allows members to use their subscription in any of their participating cities, meaning I can also use this subscription to access city bikes in all of these places:
Pretty freaking sweet if you ask me!
I am giving the Belfast Bikes a solid 4 out of 5 starts, deducting one for the annoying glitches.
So if you’re in the Belfast Area (or are just curious) head on over to Belfast Bikes.
Thanks for reading and take care. xoxox