Thursday, April 25, 2013


You haven't lived unless you cycled on a Bicing bike, complete with its gloriously uncomfortable seat, while wearing a short skirt and no leggings underneath. You haven't known disappointment until the last Bicing bike was taken from the station right before your eyes. Also you haven't lived if you have never merged into carrer Aragó rush hour traffic on Bicing (or any other bicycle for that matter).

I can't think of another service that inspires so much love and so much situational hate. Bike sharing is a great initiative for any city even marginally suitable for cyclists (Paris, for instance, Toronto, Milan and many, many others). Not every bike sharing program is well-run and not every one is a success, and the Barcelona one definitely has many faults, but is still wildly popular. I have nothing to compare it to as I have never used any other system (I have my own bike in Toronto and I don't spend nearly enough time anywhere else), but I can still point out its ups and downs.

Barcelona is a fantastic city to cycle around. It has plenty of paths and cyclists-only lanes, it's a drop-dead gorgeous city in general and the weather is nice most of the time. There is nothing like pedaling down Enric Granados watching Eixample buildings swoosh by; there is nothing like stopping at a red light every five seconds on Passeig Sant Joan (weird charm of annoyance); and there is nothing like being able to just grab a bike and go.

Well... The problem with Bicing is that very often grabbing a bike and going is the problem. There are plenty of stations and plenty of bikes, and I'd go as far as to say that the ratio of bikes to users is theoretically quite balanced. The problem lies in distribution. Barcelona is a hilly city and people are lazy (that's universal), so people cycle downhill, from north to south, from the mountains to the beach, and park Bicing downtown. Not many people grab a bike down south to go back up; there are still plenty, myself included, but not nearly as many as those who go downhill only. So even though there are Bicing vans circling around redistributing bikes, every day is essentially still the same story: during rush hour, all the bikes uptown are gone in a jiffy, while downtown the problem is the lack of spaces to park them. This a geographical problem, the one I cannot criticize Bicing for; yet, I still rage when I cannot get a bike to get to my kickboxing class or make it on time to my appointment near Arc de Triomf.

Many people also complain about the quality of the bikes in circulation. Many are faulty, even more are not glitch-free, some are downright dangerous, which can be especially frustrating if there is no other bike in the station to turn to. Still, I have been relatively lucky with Bicing so far: the brakes were barely functioning only once (which I find the most dangerous obviously), a few times they made noises so loud that they startled both the pedestrians and myself; once the bike kept switching into second gear while I was attempting to ride in third.

Also, once I rode the bike number 666, and it got me to my destination safely. And that's all that matters to me, really.

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