Last updated on January 23rd, 2023
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. They are all e-bikes!
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
Biketown is now operated by Lyft, so you can unlock bikes with either the Biketown app or Lyft. The general path to unlocking a bike is to use the app to scan the QR Code on the bike itself.
The cost is by the minute. You will pay extra if you don’t lock the bike up in a designated location. Some of them are quite obviously Biketown corrals (orange and bike signage), but some collections of blue bike stands (the upside down U “staple” format).
Note, if you reserve the bike, the clock starts are soon as you make the reservation so it can get quite expensive.
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. Now that they are all e-bikes and I can really get moving, the helmet feels key.
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, use the map on the Biketown website, or use the Biketown or Lyft phone app.
Bikes can also be reserved ahead of time, 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
- Make sure the bike has air in its tires.
- Adjust the seat if necessary.
- Scan the QR Code.
- Once approved, the bike lock will unlock.
My key suggestions:
- Be patient for the half pedal before the e-assist kicks in. You can adjust the “surge” by rotating the handle.
- 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 even with e-assist or if your parking efforts.
There is currently one area where you can park your bike anywhere: Eastside “Superhub” area. Otherwise, you need to park at a Biketown station or pay extra. 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.
If you have an annual membership or are willing to pay extra, you can park at any public bike rack inside the boundaries. 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 and result in an extra fee.
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.
There is some sort of newer Hero credit for redistributing/rescuing bikes since Lyft took over, but I haven’t sorted it out.
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!