While in California this past August and September I spent some time looking to buy a new (or used via Craigslist) bicycle to bring back to Spain with me. The last bike I had was a very fun Cannondale mountain bike, which I sold to a friend from Calgary about four years ago, and I've wanted another one ever since but never really felt like spending the money. I love the idea of being able to cruise around Barcelona on a bike rather than taking the bus/metro everywhere and my past roommate David has a mountain bike and it'd be fun to hit the hills around surrounding the city with him. The city has built an extensive network of separated bike lanes like the ones in the photo below that make getting around on bike relatively safe considering the amount of traffic on the roads.
Buying a new bike in Spain is pretty much out of the question since, like most things here, they are very expensive. The same bike costs at least 30 percent more (as do lots of things) in Spain than in the United States so that's why I was keeping my eye out for something while I was back. I came close during September when I was up in Los Angeles visiting my friends John John and Stacey because I saw pretty much the bike that I wanted in a store right across the street from Stacey's brand new office near Manhattan Beach. But, since I've been trying to spend money only on food, housing, and travel, a couple-of-thousand-dollar bike just didn't fit with the plan...plus having to carry it around the world...
Fast forward about a month or so and I'm getting settled in to the new apartment when Vladimir offers to let me use his extra membership for Bicing (pronounced: bee-sing), Barcelona's publicly-supported bicycle-sharing program. I was stoked to say the least to finally be able to get out and around on a bike again!
Bicing is an alternative transit system for people from Barcelona (as opposed to a tourist-type bike rental program). You register online, pay 30 euros per year (approximately $42 U.S.), and receive a card in the mail that gives you almost unlimited access to the system. Spread throughout the city at strategic locations, near metro stations for example, you find metal racks with around 20 red bicycles attached to them. Taking a bike is as easy as waving your membership card in front of the sensor below the information screen (the blue LCD on the left in the photo below). The system assigns you one of the bikes on the rack and automatically unlocks it allowing you to remove it for use.
Your 30 euros per year gets you access to any available bike for one-half hour "for free". After that half hour, you pay about a euro per hour up to two hours. Because the system is really meant for short trips around town, I find it difficult to keep a bike for more than like 20 minutes and that's when I ride home from the gym. The map below shows where all the Bicing stations are. There are a ton!
The downside of the system is that it's popular :-) and sometimes the stands have no bikes available. I've only run into this problem a couple of times but all I had to do was just walk a couple of blocks to another stand. They have an app for your smartphone that shows you nearby locations with bikes available as well as available space to return bikes, which helps cut down on having to "look" for a bike.
The other problem that I've run into is occasional mechanical problems with the bikes but it's been maybe 10% so far and only once did it make the bike unusable. Maintenance of the system is done by technicians in roving vans pulling trailers full of bikes. They apparently get automatically notified of stations that are full, stations that are empty (or nearing empty), and bikes that have problems. The techs then move the bikes around and make repairs as needed.
A view of the bike lanes out front of my apartment:
Overall, I've been super impressed with the system. In a way, Bicing reminds me of the public book kiosks that I saw in Frankfort Germany earlier this year in that it's a cool system that's success depends greatly on the "maturity" of the people using it. Combined with the nice separated bike lanes, getting around via Bicing has been great. I love that it's uber cheap, very convenient, and that I am able to check out the city "above ground" for a change. And, the best part about cruising around on Bicing? It didn't cost me like two grand!