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A firsthand look at PikeRide, the city's new bike share

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Touch the screen of a PikeRide bike to get going. - TYLER GRIMES
  • Tyler Grimes
  • Touch the screen of a PikeRide bike to get going.

You've probably heard about PikeRide, the new bike share program here in Colorado Springs that promises wannabe riders the ability to tool around town on their very own — for an hour, at least — bicycle. As a lover of all things bikes, I was super stoked when offered the opportunity by the Downtown Partnership (an arm of which is overseeing the program) to give these new wheels a try and learn all about how they work.

That's how I found myself sucking wind as I pedaled desperately up the hill by the Penrose Library downtown in low gear, watching with some grumpiness as I was passed by a tiny human child without any gears who seemed to have zero problems zipping up the road in all his youthful glory. Nothing makes you feel older or more unfit than getting your butt kicked by a kid in a Mohawk bike helmet who's one-fifth your size.

My first PikeRide jaunt began at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new protected lanes on Pikes Peak Avenue and continued with a community ride led by cycling advocate Allen Beauchamp. I'm 37 and definitely no candidate for USA Cycling, but I do ride my bike often throughout the week to combat the lack of exercise that occurs with my sedentary job — writer — and my other sedentary job — transporter of teenagers to sporting events. Translation: I figured I was a pretty decent candidate to provide an explanation of what the PikeRide experience might be like for an average rider.

Painted a bright purple, sporting company-branded baskets and offering an upright-style ride with a step-through frame, PikeRide bikes are made for pedaling around downtown or on the urban trails nearby, but definitely not for bombing down singletrack or racing your super-fast friend. That's partly because the bikes are heavy, weighing in at about 55 pounds (which is largely the reason that hill and I ended up in a tussle).

On the bright side, as someone laughingly mentioned, that extra weight means they won't end up in trees like the bikes in Australia's ill-fated oBike program did. In the early days of the Aussie bike share launch, folks would "park" the bikes in trees or other difficult spots, which is probably not as much of a nuisance as the country's spring magpie attacks, but is still pretty lame for people who have to pry them out of said tree.

Of course, there are other reasons why these bikes are less likely to be abused, starting with the fact that each user must lock the bike up when they're done with it (either at a special rack or other safe location), or as Alex Armani-Munn, Economic Vitality Coordinator at the Downtown Partnership and my ambassador for the test ride, points out, they'll face financial consequences. Using the bikes requires inputting payment information (usually a credit card). And that means that if you think it's hilarious to be technically correct in docking your bike in a tree because you did, in fact, lock it up, you might find yourself charged extra for your (terrible) comedic endeavors.

In addition to being immune to such abuse, the bikes are fully loaded for leisure riding around town, which makes them really fun to use. My gravel bike at home is intended to be as light as possible, so I don't have half the luxuries the PikeRide bikes have. Some of the cool features I loved: A protected chain that ensures you won't have to ride around with one pant leg rolled up like LL Cool J, a step-through frame that makes it dress-friendly and easy to dismount and a handy-dandy basket for carrying stuff. I estimate you could fit at least three growlers in there, but didn't have a chance to test that theory out. Next time!

The author enjoys a non-hilly ride segment. - TYLER GRIMES
  • Tyler Grimes
  • The author enjoys a non-hilly ride segment.

The bike rides like an old-school beach cruiser, making it a very comfortable way to travel. The tires are wide and thick enough to withstand most hazards, including the nefarious goatheads, which are basically nature's nails of doom if you are unlucky enough to ride off the beaten path into a patch of them. While you can't adjust the handlebars, you can adjust the wide, reasonably soft seat up or down depending on your height or how you like to ride.

I had no trouble navigating cracks in the road, several small hills and an unpaved portion of the Pikes Peak Greenway with ease, including a steep downhill connection in the trees that's pretty uneven. Anyone who checks one of these babies out is going to find the ride pleasant and easy.

Speaking of which, the bike has eight gears, which I'm sure will be a great help in getting average folks up the city's many hills and minimizing the chances of the rider tossing the bike into a ravine in frustration and heading into the nearest bar. I certainly made use of the low gears on my ride — they help you counter those extra pounds. I loved how smoothly the bike changed gears with a twist-grip shifter and I barely felt the transition unless I was really grinding uphill. Alex, noting my heavy breathing as we ascended Pikes Peak Avenue, did mention that future iterations of the bikes would include a small electric motor (yep, I'm talking about e-bikes) for a gentle boost on the sterner climbs. (I'm looking at you Costilla and Uintah streets.)

The biggest challenge I encountered on my ride was that my bike was heavier in the front, which meant that I had to steer a bit more carefully than normal if I wanted to avoid eating pavement, and sharp turns were harder to manage. I was, however, able to stay upright-but-wobbly past the television cameras filming the ribbon cutting, which is the best a girl can hope for sometimes. (Note to self: Test unfamiliar bike in private before having to ride past local news stations in a crowd of other cyclists.)

The only part of the bike I did not get to test was the payment and checkout process, as that was still offline when I took my ride on June 20. It's housed in the bike via a touchscreen between the handlebars. Now that the system is fully up and running, that screen also includes a map with audible turn-by-turn navigation. I was able to quickly download the BCycle app (PikeRide uses bikes from BCycle) and navigate through the payment process on my phone without any help. Later, I reviewed my ride using my computer.

Given the ease of using a less-than-fully-operational version of the system, I suspect that the fully launched payment and navigation program won't cause many headaches for users.

When we got back from our test ride, I was a little sad to relinquish my bike to the PikeRide transport van. Overall, I found the new bikes to be completely awesome and I'm so happy to know that everyone who visits Colorado Springs — or simply gets the urge to ride a bike — will get to experience the exhilarating joy of cycling in our kick-ass city.

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