Cultural Trail - plantsI didn’t do any tapering. I didn’t train at all. I didn’t shave my legs, or dope my blood, or scarf any energy bars. I just got on a bike and rode downtown. It was uncomplicated and fun, like biking should be.

At Well Done Marketing, we’re big fans of our neighborhood, Fountain Square, and of the Cultural Trail that snakes through it, right past the front windows of our office in the G.C. Murphy Building. The burgeoning traffic of walkers, joggers, and bikers has attracted an answering crop of new restaurants, shops, and cultural spots to Fountain Square and other communities along the trail’s eight-mile stretch. More and more, Downtown Indy is the place to be, not only during the workday, but after work as well. And the world, including The New York Times, is taking note.

Since April of this year, part of the new two-wheeled traffic has come from the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare. The sturdy yellow cycles are everywhere, either out on the trail or lined up in their neat space-age docks, ready for riders. And riders have responded: over 50,000 took advantage of the 250-strong fleet in just the first three months.

I used the service for the first time last Friday afternoon. Setting up an account at pacersbikeshare.org was quick and easy. For $80, you get one year of unlimited 30-minute rides. (This has been the source off some misunderstandings. More on that later.) The daily rate is $8, so an annual membership will pay for itself in just ten days of use.

Membership also cuts your bike-checkout time to almost nothing. Select your bike, pull it out of the dock, and you’re ready to go. There are front and side baskets to hold your stuff. Pacer’s Bikeshare recommends the use of a helmet, but you’ll have to provide your own.

kjp-bikeshare-0422-2The bike itself is sturdy and well designed. The quick adjust seat post is marked and numbered to speed up seat adjustment for regular users, and the three-speed shifter works smoothly and can even be shifted while the bike is at a stop. If you get a flat tire, you can lock the bike with the built in lock and contact Bikeshare for assistance.

Your membership or 24-hour contract allows for unlimited 30-minute rides, which means that once you have taken the bike out of its dock, you must return it to an empty dock (any empty dock, at any location) before the 30 minutes is up. If you keep the bike past 30 minutes, you will be charged extra. The time limit and the penalties are meant to keep the bikes circulating and therefore more available. Once you’ve returned a bike to a docking station, you’re immediately free to borrow another one, so chaining together a longer trip isn’t hard at all.

My total time, from Fountain Square to the Athenaeum on Mass Ave, was under twenty minutes. To dock the bike, you give the bike a firm push into the slot, and make sure you get three beeps and three blinks of the green light from the docking mechanism, and that’s it.

360px-Soft_Ice_creamWhile enjoying some delicious ice cream, I studied Bikeshare’s online app. The link shows up automaticallly when you visit the website from your cell phone. When you hit the GPS locator, the app shows your current location along with a route to the nearest docking station. By touching the icon for each docking station, you can find out how many bikes are available at that station, as well as how many empty docks are available to receive bikes.

This feature is useful for many reasons, not least because of the requirement to dock the bike within the time limit. If you should reach a station that is full of bikes, you will not be able to return your bike at that location. The kiosk at a full dock can give you an additional fifteen minutes at no extra charge, and the phone app would probably come in handy at this point, in order to find the nearest station with empty docks.

On the afternoon of my first ride, temps were in the upper 80s and humidity was high, making biking a sticky proposition. Still, at each station I passed, around half of the bikes were checked out and I met several other bikeshare riders as I went along. Many were in small groups and had the air of people out for a pleasure cruise along the trail. That’s all to the good, but the bikes are obviously being used by commuters as well. As I passed the station outside the Hinge on Fletcher Place the other morning, every one of the eleven docks was empty. The next dock down, near Lexington Avenue, was empty as well.

This could point to some of the long-term challenges for the program. As usage continues to rise, how do we ensure that bikes, and docks, are where we need them, when we need them? As more docks are built and the network spreads out, this issue may largely take care of itself. And no part of our transportation system (least of all my car) is immune to leaving us in the lurch occasionally. There have been misunderstandings, as well as occasional negative headlines over the past several months. But as the articles under those headlines admit, Bikeshare authorities have tried to be lenient when it comes to enforcing misunderstood regulations.

So far, the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare looks like a thoughtfully designed, efficiently implemented addition to our city’s total transportation system. We hope it will continue to grow and bring even more excitement, and business, to our front door.

Cultural trail photo via cicf.org.

Bikeshare photo by Kelley Jordan photography via pacersbikeshare.org.

Soft ice cream by Acidburn24m (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASoft_Ice_cream.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.