Monthly Archives: September 2018

How to use Biketown, Portland’s bikeshare

Besides walking and taking public transportation (Trimet), using Biketown bike share (external link) has become one of my favorite ways to get around town. Biketown combines the speed of the bus with the individualistic pleasure of walking. And unlike riding my own bike, I don’t need to remember to start my day with a bicycle or worry about someone stealing my bicycle.
The big orange bicycles are a pleasure to ride on flatter roads, with an upright stance and smooth glide over (most) bumps in the road.
Biketown has worked hard to create an inclusive bike share program, including Biketown for All with adaptive and e-bikes, as well as subsidies for lower-income Portlanders. Their staff has always helped with any random questions I’ve thrown their way, including when they are doing maintenance on the bikes.

How to get started

  1. Create an account on their website. Get an annual membership if you can afford the price. It’s currently $99 for a year that includes 90 minutes of free rides a day (XX cents a minute after that). There are often $20 discounts running, so keep an eye out for those! If you have a lower income, there are subsidies available.
    1. The other great benefit to an annual membership is that you can park your bike anywhere within the Biketown.
  2. Create a PIN. Create a PIN that only includes two numbers. This slightly horrifies me since I spend a fair bit of time thinking about security. But the keypads on the orange bikes are the most challenging part of Biketown, and you only want to have to hit the keys a minimal amount. Additionally, the worst that will happen is that someone will steal your account number and go for a joyride on your account. You’ll get a notice on your phone and you can shut down that poor person from any further rides.
    1. I suggest the pattern of one unique digit and then picking a second unique digit for the second through fourth position in your PIN. You may end up with a bike that doesn’t like one of the numbers you picked, but you’d have that issue whether you used that number once or three times.
    2. Note: the keypads are getting replaced (yay!), but as of October 2018, still need to be fully swapped out. If these keypads work better, consider switching your PIN to a more random number.
  3. Install the app on your phone if you haven’t already.
  4. Get an account card. You want to get an account card so that you don’t have to wrestle with the keypads on the bikes to enter your account number. Stations that have the little wireless icon goober will let you print out a plastic id card:

Ready to ride: handkerchiefs, helmets and safety notes

I like having a handkerchief with me in general — it’s just handy. I’ve also felt rather clever when it has been a bit wet and then I want to ride an orange bike. I can easily dry the seat off with my cloth handkerchief (some of which used to be my grandfather’s…awww….)
I’m a big believer in helmets because I am not the most coordinated person. Plus my brain doesn’t need to be knocked around — it’s already losing its marbles. I have an orange helmet that I keep at work to use with Biketown. However, I also ride just as frequently without a helmet. Some of this is because I like routes where I’m relatively protected from big dangerous cars. And I’m also pretty comfortable on the orange bikes by now.
That being said, if you’re diving into using Biketown for the first time, you might want to carry a bike helmet for some extra brain protection.
My other safety consideration has been to throw an extra bike light in my bag if I think I might ride a bike later at night. They do have lights on the front under the basket, but they aren’t the brightest.

How to find a Biketown bike

You can be opportunistic and see if you can spot one as you walk to your destination, walk to a bike station corral , or use the map on the Biketown website or in the phone app.
Bikes can also be reserved ahead of time for ten minutes, but note that you will be charged for the amount of time that the bike is reserved, whether you check out the bike or not.

Checking out a bike

  1. Make sure the bike has air in its tires.
  2. Hit some keypad numbers to wake up the bike, but I’m not sure that is actually needed.
  3. Hold your Biketown card patiently over the keypad (sometimes 10-20 seconds) until the keypad asks for your PIN.
  4. Adjust the seat if necessary.

Riding tips

The bicycles have instructions on both the screens on the back of the bikes and in the baskets. They are good tips!
My key suggestions:
  • When shifting, don’t pedal. Totally backwards from what a lot of us learned to do, but the poor gears grind out terribly if you are pedaling hard when shifting.
  • Don’t ride on the sidewalk downtown. Yield to pedestrians when riding on the sidewalk outside of downtown.
  • Do it three times before giving up on Biketown.

Also, these bikes are much, much heavier than any bicycle I have previously owned. This is great for riding smoothly, but can be an unexpected challenge on hills or if your parking efforts.

Bike parking

There are two other areas where you can park your bike anywhere: Central Eastside Industrial District (CEID) dockless “Superhub” area and Portland State University (PSU).
Otherwise, you need to park at a Biketown station. Many of these are starting to be regular bike corrals (versus the orange “i” Biketown stations). If you don’t, you may be charged extra.
Anywhere inside the boundaries if you have an annual membership! There is a map online and in the phone app of the boundaries. You are supposed to lock the bike to an official bike rack, but I have seen all sorts of creative alternatives. Try to avoid these if you can since it can cause issues with the bicycles being kept safe.
Locking the bikes is pretty straightforward, but still occasionally I have trouble getting the lock and holes to line up. Special bike racks can cause unexpected problems — and be thoughtful about leaving room for other bicycles to also use the racks.

Earning credits

In the phone app (but not on the website map), you can see bike stations/corrals that will give you a dollar credit if you return a bicycle to that location. Help distribute bikes AND earn your membership!

A few other observations

A note on Bike(y)town

I like to call our bike share Bikeytown. Or the orange bikes. As in, I’m taking a Bikeytown orange bike to get to my appointment. I’m not sure how the Biketown marketers feel about this, but it makes me happy! Bikey fun good times!