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.