Houston's maiden foray into a public bicycle program began just weeks ago, with kiosks full of sturdy red Trek bicycles at B-cycle stations open and ready to serve Houstonians adventuresome enough to leave a car -- or more than likely, truck -- behind and embrace Bayou City life on a bicycle.
The kiosks are beginning to pop all up over Houston, with locations at the Downtown YMCA, Market Square Park. City Hall, the George R. Brown complex and in a parking lot in the Continental Club area.
A rep from the B-cycle office says the group is looking to roll out at least 15 more kiosks, with locations in the theater district, Midtown, Montrose and the Museum District coming in the next few months.
The bikes are sturdy, making for a comfortable ride, and they are maintained by the B-cycle program, so there should be no need to air up any tires. They even come equipped with a bike lock, albeit a confusing one.
The baskets in front are big and deep enough for a few shopping bags or a gym tote.
In the event your bike is somehow stolen (you didn't lock it down), you just bought a brand-new bike -- well, one that you will never see again. With Houston's rep as a bike-thieving city, locking your B-cycle up is a good call.
When asked if the bikes have some sort of GPS tracking device, the B-cycle folks said that they only have an RFID chip, used to log the bikes in and out of the kiosks, so they can track you at each B-cycle stop.
Of course, these bikes are not free to use, and come with a three-tiered rental system. A 24-hour pass runs $5, a 7-day pass is $15 and an annual membership is $50.
Usage charges break down like this, per the B-cycle site:
Usage fees are charged based on the length of each ride taken by a member, and are typically broken down into half-hour increments. Houston B-cycle gives you the first 90 minutes of use fee free, and then you incur a charge of $2.00 for each additional 1/2 hour after that. To avoid additional fee charges, simply check the bike into any available station and check it back out again and the 90 minute clock starts over. If you have a 24 Hour Pass or a 7 Day Pass, you'll use your credit card to gain access to another bike when you are ready to ride again.
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You can also sign up for a B-card and become a program member if you are so inclined.
If you plum forget to check the bike back in, you incur extra charges. Upon checking mine out, I assumed I had the bike for a whole day for $5, when in fact I needed to check it in every 90 minutes. I got a call from the program letting me know I had run up a $15 bill since I didn't clock it back in after each 90-minute increment. I had mine from 2 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. They were cool enough to waive the fee, though, seeing as how I was a first-time offender.
Once there are more kiosks, it will be easier to stay in compliance.
No helmets are issued in the B-cycle program. In fact, for adults it is legal to drive a bicycle without a helmet, but B-cycle strongly recommends wearing a helmet whenever riding.