Category Archives: Bicycling

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!

Biketown: a month of freedom!

Portland’s bikeshare, Bike(y)town, is doing two awesome things in the month of May.

  1. You can ride an orange bike for up to 90 minutes a day for free.
  2. You can lock the bikes at any bike rack/staple within the bike share boundaries — you do not need to lock the bike to an orange station rack/dock.

Official details here on the Biketown FAQ site.

Free rides

This is great! Enjoy! You’ll want to create an account so that you can enter your account number/PIN and go! If you just want to try it out, set yourself up as a “single ride” account.

When I did this for my partner, I had to enter a credit card and I purchased a $2.50 credit. It wasn’t clear to me if there was a way to do create an account with no purchase. This was also right at the beginning of May and maybe they’ve smoothed the kinks since then.

Dockless bike parking

I’m really enjoying this one! I can park about a block from my house rather than 6-8 blocks away. Pretty sweet. I’ve been jealous of the Central Eastside Industrial District (CEID) dockless “Superhub” area, so this is super convenient.

I figure this also lays down a desire trail to have bike parking closer to where I live (and maybe push the boundary area further east).

Theories on why

  1. Fend off dockless bike share
  2. Gain data about where people would really like ride and what happens when lots and lots of people are riding the bikes

A few other observations

We have adaptive bikeshare! These are also free in May!

Biketown for All: discounted memberships for Portlanders living on low incomes.

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…aw….)

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 a night. They do have lights on the front under the basket, but they aren’t the brightest.

Designs!

While most of the bikes are orange, there are also some interesting additional designs: shoe-inspired visuals and others from Nike and our new community designs.

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!

Crossing on the Hawthorne Bridge: biking in central Portland

To cross on the Hawthorne Bridge, you’re going to get to travel with a lot of other Portlanders! Just like the Steel Bridge, this is a popular way for us to get to and from work, so if you’re tootling around be aware that folks may be moving quickly around you on their bicycles.

This bridge has fairly wide sidewalks on both sides, which then convert to bike lanes on the viaduct over inner SE Portland. The sidewalks will also be shared with the pedestrians, and you should plan on cycling on the side that is with the direction of traffic.

You can drop off the bridge just before the Eastside viaduct onto the Eastbank Esplanade (or cycle up to the bridge from the Esplanade) on these funny spiral sidewalks. Pedestrians will also use these, and you will need to merge at both the top and the bottom of the sidewalks. Don’t forget to get on the one that will be going with traffic in the direction you want to travel.

Hawthorne Bridge map


View Larger Map

Crossing on the Hawthorne Bridge: biking in central Portland

To cross on the Hawthorne Bridge, you’re going to get to travel with a lot of other Portlanders! Just like the Steel Bridge, this is a popular way for us to get to and from work, so if you’re tootling around be aware that folks may be moving quickly around you on their bicycles.

This bridge has fairly wide sidewalks on both sides, which then convert to bike lanes on the viaduct over inner SE Portland. The sidewalks will also be shared with the pedestrians, and you should plan on cycling on the side that is with the direction of traffic.

You can drop off the bridge just before the Eastside viaduct onto the Eastbank Esplanade (or cycle up to the bridge from the Esplanade) on these funny spiral sidewalks. Pedestrians will also use these, and you will need to merge at both the top and the bottom of the sidewalks. Don’t forget to get on the one that will be going with traffic in the direction you want to travel.

Hawthorne Bridge map


View Larger Map

Bicycling in Central Portland: crossing on the Steel Bridge

So, you’re thinking about going for bicycle ride in Central Portland? Excellent! There are lots of bike lanes and multi-use paths to easily get from point A to point B.

One of the first questions when biking around central Portland is how to get across the river (assuming you need to). At this point, there are two bridges that are best suited to crossing on a bicycle, particularly if you are not a very assertive bicyclist: the Steel Bridge and the Hawthorne Bridge. In a year or so, we’ll have another bridge for alternative transportation just to the south of the Hawthorne Bridge.

The Steel Bridge has a multi-use path (MUP) on the lower deck. Be aware that there may be pedestrians and confused bicyclists who are not using this path as a high speed commute route (or conversely, be aware that there may be cyclists using this path as a high speed commute route).

From the west, you get onto this path from Waterfront Park, not from the on ramp. You’ll want to be by the water with the cherry trees.

From the east, you get onto the path from this funky turn off of the sidewalk on the west side of NE Lloyd. If you are riding west on NE Lloyd, you will need to get onto the sidewalk on the left around NE Grand or do a maneuver at NE Oregon and NE Lloyd to get left onto the path down the lower deck. However, there is more decent signage if you drop down on NE Multnomah heading west and then jog through the Rose Quarter transit center. Often you’re travelling with a bunch of bike traffic.

You can ride with traffic on the upper deck, but you do have to get up a fairly significant hill on either side. The sidewalk on the upper deck is extremely narrow, and while you can bike on it, you may run into pedestrians who are not inclined to yield to a bicycle. If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to deal with dropping onto the lower deck, you might consider biking with the cars.

Want to try another bridge? How about crossing on the Hawthorne Bridge?

Central Portland bridges:

View Larger Map

The Night Ride, 2009

I celebrated my 32 (or 2 to the 5th) birthday by taking part in the annual Portland Night Ride, a very goofy night time bike ride with 1,500 of my newest friends. I’m not particularly keen about riding my bike after dark, but we started around 9am with plenty of light and then gradually drifted into darkness. I thought my costume was pretty silly, but my favorite costumes were a crew of pirates who decorated their bicycles to look like ships, a banana, and the Three Musketeers.

The ride started at the train station, and then took us across the Broadway bridge into North Portland. I somehow managed to be in the first handful of riders out of the gate, which meant the first stretch was remarkably solitary. I had been counting on following the pirates, but it was not to be. We went up Interstate and onto Mississippi, and then smack into the Mississippi street fair. While waiting for my brother, we got to watch a fairly hilarious collision between the two events. But everyone was mostly pretty chill, and the bottleneck meant that we got to inspect the other riders and locate other favorites (low rider bicycle and bicycle with lanterns were great).

Once the brother was located, we plunged onwards, ringing our bells, hollering, and being offered beer. Out to Willamette Boulevard, we enjoyed some bagpipers and reckless bicycles as we entered darkness.

The bicycle short movies at a park near N. Carey were excellent, particularly this PSA:

And we were then off to the Columbia Slough (gorgeous ribbon of bike lights through the dark), past the racetrack and then the disco party (pumpin’ tunes, but too crowded). We shot back towards the train station trailing the Three Musketeers (who didn’t seem to find my witticisms as funny as I did — “”where was D’Artagnan? One for All and All for One! Oh, no, you’re split by the traffic light!”” Good thing I wasn’t drinking…). The final donuts at the train station were bypassed for a goodnight birthday drink at the Rose and Thistle, and then to a well-earned sleep.

All in all, a great time! Similar to wandering through the streets in large crowds of happy people, there is something delightful about cheery bike riders taking over the streets (at least for those of us on bikes). I can’t wait for the next Sunday Parkway.