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Why I Can’t Wait for Bike Share in San Francisco

28 May

New York City’s Citi Bike bike share program opened today with huge fanfare from supporters and grumbling from skeptics. With over 15,000 new annual members already subscribed at $95 a pop, I’d say the program is off to an amazing start of the most ambitious roll-out stateside of a bike share: 6,000 bikes in 300 stations.

While most of the skeptics are people who don’t want to lose valuable parking spots to bikes docking stations, some are cyclists who can’t see themselves riding bikes that are 45 pounds of clunky slowness, and who don’t look forward to navigating the crowded streets of NYC with a bunch of newbies on bikes. What’s in it for them?

Plenty. Susi Wunch gave some good reasons for cyclist to use bike share: for riding on spontaneous trips, for riding with non-cyclist friends and out-of-town guests, and for riding that last mile in areas not well served by transit. David Byrne, lead singer of Talking Heads and NYC bike advocate, adds that they’ll be convenient when it rains and you don’t want to take out your own bike and leave it in the wet.

But both missed one important reason for using bike share vs your own bike, which Dick and I learned the hard way in San Francisco today. Here’s a hint: What’s missing in this picture?

20130527-190946.jpg

Yep, someone stole the saddles off our bike while they were parked outside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art today. We wanted to catch China’s Terra Cotta Warriors at the Asian Art Museum before they closed today and to see the Gerry Winogrand photography exhibit before SF MOMA closes for 2.5 years next weekend.

I was worried about parking our bikes at the Asian Art Museum since it’s near City Hall in the notorious Mid-Market/Tenderloin neighborhood. But it was in the more respectable SOMA where we lost our saddles. We U-locked our bike frames to sturdy racks, ran cable locks through our front and back wheels. As I walked away, I was pleased that we brought our saddle covers that not only would protect our high-end Brooks B17 and Selle Anatomica saddles from the threatening rain, but also disguise them as more ordinary saddles. It didn’t work.

Unlike NYC, San Francisco’s planned bike share is far more modest at only 35 stations vs 300 stations. The SF program has been criticized for not going big enough, and that may limit its success indeed. But it would have worked for us today. We made four stops in the city today and each had a bike station within a few hundred feet.

SF Bikeshare Map

We could have grabbed a SF bike at Caltrain station, ridden to the Ferry Building and docked it while we ate breakfast, then grabbed another SF bike for the trip to the Asian Art Museum. Ditto for the SF MOMA and then back to Caltrain. We could have taken four bikes for four trips and all for no more than the basic membership fee since all trips were within 30 minutes riding time. (That’s close to what we did in Paris on the Velib bikes)

But most important: our personal bikes would have been safe from cruel bike thieves.

We didn’t have much time to recover from the shock of our bikes’ violation. We had a train to catch! Riding out of the saddle across the pothole-infested South of Market section of downtown San Francisco for the mile back to the Caltrain station, and then another mile to get home from Caltrain in Mountain View is not a trip I care to repeat. Lessons learned: you can’t safely use hand signals out of the saddle, potholes are more dangerous, and my ankles get tired faster than my thighs. I’m glad I was wearing sensible flats instead of heels.

Now we’re left assessing the damage and scraping up replacement parts. Two seatposts, two saddles, two saddle rain covers, two seat packs with multitools, spare tube and patch kits, and a tailight on Dick’s bike. Dick doesn’t want to add up the total cost of our loss but I’m guessing it’s between $500 and $800.

Have you ever had something stolen off your bike? Or even your whole bike? Did it change how you locked your bike or where you parked it?

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28 Comments

Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Around Town

 

28 responses to “Why I Can’t Wait for Bike Share in San Francisco

  1. Nadiamac

    May 28, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Ugh, how miserable. My neighbor had her bike stolen from the rack in front of SFMOMA (cable lock cut)- sounds like its a bit of a hot spot despite being right in front of the busy entrance and cafe. totally sucks.

     
    • ladyfleur

      May 28, 2013 at 9:13 am

      I had a friend whose husband’s longtail was stolen from Yerba Buena Gardens. They cut the frame, not the lock, presumably to part it out. Crazy. I think the location attracts thieves because there are a lot of bikes in the area, especially nicer bikes.

       
  2. Nadia Soedira

    May 28, 2013 at 7:42 am

    My new beautiful one-of-a-kind M8 PLUM Public Bike was stolen from me on bike to work day 2011 right before my eyes. Broke my heart!!!
    Yes, that did change the way I lock any of my bikes and where to park them
    Yes, people on the street tend to laugh from seeing how many locks I carry for a single bike.
    And, yes, I do not care with what they think.

     
    • ladyfleur

      May 28, 2013 at 9:13 am

      Right in front of your eyes? How horrible. Were you in a store or cafe? Did you run after it?

       
      • Nadia Soedira

        May 28, 2013 at 10:18 am

        It was when I was activating the alarm and locking up the store, a procedure that takes (has to be done in) less than 30 seconds.
        Yes, I did run for it on my heels but had to stop on a busy intersection because I value my life more.
        The scum was passing the intersection right as the light turns red, and the seconds I got to the edge of the intersections cars already moving fast. It’s one of those multi-lanes one-way streets where drivers tend to drive very, very fast.
        Did you see someone stole a bike in the city on this year bike-to-work day caught on camera? Pretty much kinda like that.
        Crime of opportunity.
        Lesson learned. Never leave my bike unlock even it is only for seconds.
        You may think a minute or two will do no harm.
        You may think you can run fast.
        No, that’s not true.
        Don’t give anyone a slight of chance. Just don’t.

         
  3. Rachel Unger

    May 28, 2013 at 7:44 am

    I lost my pump and bike computer (the little piece on the back frame, even) at the Mtn View Caltrain station. I hadn’t been tracking my mileage except for that for about three months, so I was furious. They left all kinds of small stuff that would have been easier to remove, too (lights, trunk bag, tire levers, etc.) But that stuff was probably small change, since my taste runs to Cat Eye. :/

     
    • ladyfleur

      May 28, 2013 at 9:15 am

      I lost a set of lights on California Avenue in Palo Alto while I was in yoga class. I had to get a ride home because I didn’t want to ride in the dark without lights. Still, that’s all I’ve had stolen so it’s not so bad.

       
  4. djconnel

    May 28, 2013 at 7:46 am

    Wow…sorry about the theft! That’s terrible.

    But I think this post demonstrates what may be wrong, not right, about bike share. In the wild, the bikes will get trashed. The program in NYC may be great for 3 weeks, then the bikes will be damaged and stolen and the program eventually avabsibed, millions if dollars squandered. I hope this is not the case.

     
    • ladyfleur

      May 28, 2013 at 9:24 am

      I don’t expect parts theft to be an issue on the bike share bikes. They’re intentionally built with non-standard parts so they can’t be reused except on bike share bikes.

      Vandalism in general is always an issue, but given there are bike shares all over the world and in the US they probably have a good idea of what the normal damage rate is.

      You’d think NYC would be a rough place for vandalism/theft, but I was really surprised to see all the moveable lightweight tables and chairs in the street plazas all over town (Times Square, Herald Square, High Line Park, etc). I don’t know what keeps them from walking away every day. http://ladyfleur.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/20110920-063149.jpg

       
  5. Carol

    May 28, 2013 at 8:38 am

    Sorry Janet and Dick. Please report this loss; and I would not be surprised if the theft was caught on camera. The museum may cooperate if it wants to encourage its patrons.

     
    • ladyfleur

      May 28, 2013 at 9:25 am

      I’ll look into reporting it, not because I expect to get them back but because I want it to be tracked. Bike theft is a major factor in why more people don’t ride in cities.

       
  6. Peter Donohue

    May 28, 2013 at 9:12 am

    My girlfriend, who bike commutes, has lost 2 commuter bikes and 1 saddle in the city (mostly near Civic Center). Slowly improving our locking methods and making sure we use cheap gear. On the saddle, the lesson learned was to remove the quick release all cheap bikes come with and put on a bolt on seat collar.

     
    • ladyfleur

      May 28, 2013 at 9:17 am

      Funny how I was worried about the Civic Center and the Moscone area was where we lost the gear. Our saddles didn’t have quick releases. The thieves had to use an Allen wrench to get them off. Ironically, they probably got the wrench right out of our seat packs.

       
      • Nadia Soedira

        May 28, 2013 at 10:22 am

        That takes time, especially for 2 of them. Hate the thought of someone might see that and not do anything about it?!?

         
    • Nadiamac

      May 28, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      I’ve seen bikes in the city where the saddle is either locked to the frame with a little cable lock or using a piece of chain. Not inpenetrable, but surely a deterrent to someone who wants to make a quick grab

       
  7. Ken

    May 28, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Saddle theft is so common that I installed a saddle-keeper cable on my commuter bike. It is not foolproof, but it does mean that the thief will need more than one tool and more than a few seconds to steal the saddle. Some people use old bicycle chains for this purpose (a little heavier, but free).

    I am optimistic about the NYC bike share and also the upcoming SF bike share. By focusing the deployment around daily commuter areas, the bikes should get a lot of use as well as users who will tend to take care of the bikes.

     
    • ladyfleur

      May 28, 2013 at 1:40 pm

      Saddle theft isn’t so common on the Peninsula vs SF so we haven’t felt the need to add a saddle-keeper. But I think I’ll be figuring out a solution for that pretty darn soon.

       
  8. Richard Masoner (@cyclelicious)

    May 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Gah, sorry about the lost saddles. I can imagine the dismay.

    QR binder or allen key binder bolt?

     
    • ladyfleur

      May 28, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      They had to use an Allen key which we so conveniently left for them in our seat packs. :(

      The irony is that with the rain covers on the saddles we in disguise. And I’ve never used the covers before and never had a saddle stolen. And they were plain black covers that didn’t say Brooks.

       
  9. Becky Gray

    May 28, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    I had a bike stolen. It took two hard clips to cut the thick cable. Nothing to do but report it to the police and know that I’d never see that bike again.

     
  10. CJ

    May 28, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Poor sad bikes. I’m so sorry this happened. But, thanks for the exellent argument for bikeshare.

     
  11. Matt

    May 29, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Although I do feel your pain and anger (?) about the theft, what is upsetting me personally right now is that I now realize that I never got around to seeing the terra cotta exhibit. When I first learned of the exhibit, the “end of May” seemed like forever into the future.

     
  12. Matt

    May 29, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    And the Winogrand exhibit.

     
    • ladyfleur

      May 29, 2013 at 10:27 pm

      There’s still hope for the Winogrand. It runs through Sunday. Get on down there! (and lock your bike better than we did)

       
  13. Bike Pretty (@BikePretty)

    May 30, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Well since you asked…
    I left my bike parked outside of Asia SF (bachelorette party) for hours & hours one Saturday night.
    When I got back, the thieves had been to town on it! But didn’t manage to steal more than my saddle and (carbon, sniffle) seat post.

    But they did leave behind a metal bar in my u-lock, left over from their attempt to pry it off! (I had locked it around the back tire, in the rear triangle.)

    I ended up biking the 2 miles home, standing on the pedals. In heels, naturally.
    It was difficult, but I didn’t realize how messed up my rear wheel was until the next day, when I had to get it replaced.

     
    • ladyfleur

      May 30, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      Ugh. That’s awful, but at least they didn’t get the whole bike. I hope your ride home wasn’t too hilly. Late night + heels + hills + no saddle = tough ride.

       
  14. Matt

    August 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    I watched them install the Bikeshare racks at Redwood City Caltrain today. I looked at the planned Bikeshare stations, and they are all within reasonable walking distance of each other. I’m still not clear on the concept. You have to park it at another Bikeshare rack, but why use Bikeshare if the destination rack is only a few blocks (I.e., minutes) away?

     
    • ladyfleur

      August 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      The stations need to be close enough that no one has to walk more than a couple of blocks at the start or end of the ride. The problem with the pilot is that it’s only covers a small area that is mostly within walking distance. A broader system like DC or NYC has stations equally close to each other but covers a much bigger area.

       

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