Monday, 23 April 2012

It was the best of rides, it was the worst of rides

About 18 months ago I posted my initial impressions of CityCycle, Brisbane's beleaguered public bike hire scheme. At the time I doubted whether I would use the scheme much, despite my year-long subscription, and that doubt proved more prophetic than I could have imagined. That day and its two rides wound up being the sum total of my use of the scheme over 12 months - hardly good value for my $60 subscription. It simply was never convenient. Any time I was at ease carrying a helmet around, it was possible and preferable to take my own bike.

By contrast, coming back to my very verbose travel diary, on the Saturday of my week in Rennes, I found myself needing to get out to Brequigny to watch a basketball game, and I decided that I would give the Rennes bike hire scheme, Le Velo Star, a try. I signed up for a 7-day subscription, for 5 euros (a shade under A$7 at the moment), and a few minutes later, armed with a code, I was able to roll out past the station on my new steed.

I ended up riding every day I was in Rennes, so at 14 trips for $7, it certainly yielded better value for me than my CityCycle subscription. The bikes themselves bear a strong resemblance to the CityCycle offerings - heavy, fairly low, 3 gears, but fairly serviceable provided you stuck to reasonable terrain. The Rennes bikes, though, are considerably older, and it shows. I had a number of bikes with technical issues - slipping drive train, only one gear, a wonky pedal - but for the kinds of journeys I was making, it wasn't much of an issue, and if it had been, I could easily have stopped at an intervening station and transferred to another.

The experience of riding along without a helmet was disconcerting at first. Even while I was living in France, I always rode with a helmet, and if I were to live there again, I would do so again. I quickly got comfortable riding without one, though. The relatively slow pace encouraged by the bikes at hand make it a little safer, I think, and the roads are well suited to cyclists, with ample cycle lanes of generous width, and no conflict with parked cars. At no time during the week (admittedly a small sample) did I feel at all endangered by the cars.

Tempting as it is to consider this as a vote for a revision of helmet laws, the link between cyclist safety and driver attitudes, traffic conditions and bike lane availability and quality makes it a very complicated question. I remain undecided. One way or another, though, public bike hire in Rennes has it all over public bike hire in Brisbane.


Ian said...

Hi Jim, did you rule out the idea of using the helmets provided with most CityCycle bikes these days? I found when they started providing them it made a huge difference to the convenience of the scheme (for me, anyway).

Jim said...

No, I haven't ruled it out, but my subscription had expired by the time they appeared, and now I live outside of the zone served by citycycle. For those reasons as well as my bad experience, I'm unlikely to resubscribe.

Also, while I wouldn't have qualms about using the helmets provided, most people I talk to do (along the lines of "ew!").