Sunday, June 17, 2012

CityCycle: the quick and easy way to get around Brisbane

I've been wanting to investigate the Brisbane City Council's CityCycle scheme for some time.

Similar to other public bicycle 'schemes' around the world, CityCycle was launched with much fanfare on October 1, 2010, and publicised as 'offering a healthy and cost-effective transport option for residents and visitors of Brisbane to travel around the inner-city...'. Once launched, though, all publicity surrounding the scheme seemed to die down, despite CityCycle bike stations popping up everywhere.

Initially the CityCycle scheme appeared to be a bit of a white elephant. However, as time has progressed, it has slowly gained momentum (no pun intended) and, as of June 2012, there are around 2000 bikes available for hire from 150 CityCycle bike stations - operating hours are 5am to 10pm - located every 300 to 500 metres throughout the inner city; from the University of Queensland campus at St Lucia, to Toowong, Milton, the CBD, Spring Hill, New Farm, Teneriffe, Newstead, South Brisbane, West End, Dutton Park and Kangaroo Point. See map of CityCycle bike stations here.

I walk past several bike stations each morning on the way to work and am pleasantly surprised to see the numbers of bikes on each station changing each day, often quite considerably. Obviously word of mouth has been doing its job. And on the day I was taking photos for this post at South Bank, across from the Brisbane CBD, I saw 16 others in use in around 1 ½ hours. This might not sound like many but this was in quite a confined area.

I have discovered that this post runs slowly if viewed on Internet Explorer. It's best viewed on Google Chrome or Firefox (not as fast as Chrome).

A row of CityCycle bikes at the station on Tank Street in the Brisbane CBD.

CityCycle is a great way to get around. As stated, bike stations are every few hundred metres and the first half hour is free, so, if you are in a hurry to get somewhere, then it's ideal. And Brisbane does have a good bikeway system in the areas where the bikes are located.

There are numerous subscriptions available, varying from an annual subscription of $60.50 to a three-month for $27.50 (both cheaper for tertiary students), a weekly for $11 and a daily for $2. The weekly and daily subscriptions are valid for 7 days and 24 hours respectively (you must also be at least 17 years old to subscribe).

For all of these the first half hour is free, then the costs are as follows:

31mins - 60mins: AUD $2.20
61mins - 90mins: AUD $6.05
91mins - 120mins: AUD $11.00
2 - 3 hours: AUD $19.80
3 - 5 hours: AUD $38.50
5 - 10 hours: AUD $77.00
10 - 24 hours: AUD $165.00

Unlike the 'old days' where such a public bicycle scheme would have been run on a coin-operated system, CityCycle is credit/debit card based.

I opted for a daily subscription and did it all online at home. It was a very easy, simple process - choose the subscription you want, add your name and email, then choose a 4-digit password and you receive an ID number that you must also take with you, along with your password, to get your bike from the bike station. Of course, you also have to hand over your credit/debit card details in case you decide to take the bike home with you overnight.

If you do find yourself at a station and feel like going for a ride, then the website is smartphone friendly. You can do it all then and there, get your ID number and password, and away you go...

The smartphone-friendly CityCycle website.
The terminal even reminds you that you can use your mobile to subscribe to CityCycle.

The one possible downside is that wearing a bike helmet is law in Australia (Australia was the first country in the world to impose uniform national mandatory bicycle helmet legislation, as of 1990). And not all CityCycle bikes have helmets. In fact, very few do.

Initially around 400 courtesy helmets were available across the 2,000 bikes but I'm not sure how many of these have been 'souvenir-ed' or damaged, so finding one might be a bit hit and miss if you don't have your own. I came across one at the three bike stations I saw (I brought my own helmet).

A helmet left with one of the bikes at a West End bike station.

Once you're all set to go and you arrive at the bike station, it's a quick, easy and simple process to get your bike and get cycling. Each bike station has a terminal where:
  • You add your ID number and password
  • Use the keypad and follow the prompts
  • Choose the bike you want (only the bike rack numbers with bikes in them appear)
There is a terminal at each bike station.
Type in the ID number given to you.
If you have a long term subscription, you will get a subscriber card you can swipe against the reader, left.

Once you have chosen the bike, you go to the corresponding bike stand number, press the button and dislodge the bike. This process is very easy and everything ran smoothly the day I used it, especially considering the bike stations are open to the elements.

The bikes themselves are built for comfort, not speed. The are robust, as opposed to sleek, and this, matched with the basket in front, won't win too many style points. However, they are functional and they do their job very well. The seats are nice and big and the ride is a very comfortable one.

Despite their size, the bikes handle very well and have a decent turning circle. They only have three gears but the they do the job. Motoring along the flat in third gear works well and when I tried a reasonable incline in first gear, it worked equally good. And there's a bell for making others aware you're coming through.

Each bike stand is numbered. Those stands with bikes on them
will appear on the terminal when you've typed in your ID number etc. 
The metal plate on the side of each bike that is locked into place in the bike stand.
Press the button (top) to dislodge the bike from the bike stand.
The best way to find and leave your helmet - looped around the metal plate
that is locked into the bike stand.
A CityCycle locked into place in its stand.
They're built for comfort and not speed...and the big
seat ensures a comfortable ride.
The basket doesn't necessarily look 'cool' but it is handy.

*     *     *     *     *

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It's not exactly 'four on the floor' but the three gears work well.
You adjust the gears by turning the pock-marked grip next to the '1 2 3' forward and backward.
'Move it or lose it!' A bell to let others know you're coming through.
You turn the grip ring surrounding the bell to make it 'ding-a-ling'.

The bike comes with a wire lock (below), in case you need to leave the bike somewhere momentarily. Wrap the lock around a fixed object, then place the end in the holder located beside the metal plate that is locked into the bike stand. A key is then released (from in front of the metal plate mentioned in the previous sentence). To release the bike, put the key back in its holder and turn clockwise.

The wire lock found in the basket.
The key is located in front of the metal plate is locked into the bike stand.

And, because we're all different, the bike seat can be adjusted (below). Release the lever at the side of the seat and move the seat up and down. If the seat pole won't remain in place, the 'tension' of the lever can be adjusted using the small round 'wheel' that can be seen (in the photo) on the other side of the seat pole from the lever.
The seat can be adjusted using the lever and, if need be, the
small round 'wheel' on the other side of the seat pole.
In case you're wondering where you are, each terminal has a 'You Are Here'...

Having experienced how easy the CityCycle scheme is to use, I won't be averse to using it more often. Of course, the one downside might be the lack of a helmet at one or more stations. Still, there's nothing stopping you from throwing your bike helmet over the shoulder, or in the bag/backpack, and having a day out in town one weekend. It saves taking your bike on the train.

At the risk of sounding like a cheapskate, even on a day subscription you can ride for free all day. If you spend your time riding close to bike stations, all you need to do is keep changing bikes. And you can ride a long way in the first (free) half hour. You can get a bike, head off somewhere to do some shopping, or gallery visiting, dock your bike at a station, then get another bike and head off somewhere else for lunch, dock your bike at a station, then go for a quick ride to work off your lunch...and so on. And it can all be done for your $2 daily subscription.

The CityCycle scheme is slowly coming into its own, despite the (seeming) lack of publicity it's received. It's something the people of Brisbane are not used to but it's good to see it gradually being embraced. I hope this post inspires you to give it a go.



*If you tried the CityCycle scheme as a result of this post, please tell me -

**A week after posting this I bought a yearly pass. The idea of popping into the CBD on the bus and being able to ride to various suburbs on the maze of inner-city bike tracks, all for $60.50, is too appealing!

*To see more posts about accommodation, dining, and/or things to do in Brisbane and SE Qld, visit HERE.

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Photos & text by Giulio Saggin (unless otherwise stated)
© Use of photos/text must be via written permission

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