First impressions from my inaugural ride on one of Madison's new B-cycles Tuesday afternoon...
Depending on the sun's angle, it can be a bit difficult to make out the interactive screen used to check out a B-cycle. Took me a few minutes to figure out one kiosk was not in service and move on to the next station around the corner.
The upright riding position made me feel like a bigger, goofier and more male stand-in for Elvira Gulch, the bicycling biddy from Kansas in 1939's Wizard of Oz. Run, Toto, run!
Toto at a relaxed trot could easily outpace Elvira Gulch if she was riding a B-cycle. Biking down State Street in the second of three gears, I might have maxed out at 10 or 12 miles per hour. Coming back up Langdon Street in first gear, I reckon my average in the neighborhood of five to seven mph.
On a B-cycle, what's the hurry? This would be a fine bike to cruise around a beachfront resort like, um, Madison's isthmus. Most excursions on Madison's B-cycles will be for short errands and trips.
On the other hand, it's not hard to imagine B-cycle races becoming a popular new feature at Ride the Drive.
Test the brakes early. The brakes on the B-cycle I rode were a bit soft, taking a full car length to stop the first time I tried them. The second time, whaling on the brakes stopped me quicker but still weren't as grippy as I'm used to on my Trek ATB.
The upside of soft brakes is that -- at least on the particular B-Cycle I rode -- I discerned little risk of an endo or face plant. But this was only one bike among a fleet of 350 planned once all the 35 stations come online throughout Madison's isthmus.
I recommend downshifting to first gear when approaching a stop, to facilitate easier acceleration out of said stop but also to protect your dignity.
The B-cycle's geometry and the weight over the front of the bike can make handling a bit squirrelly until you get the hang of it.
Once you get the hang of it and relax, the B-cycle is a breeze to ride.
Still, bring your own helmet.
The generous front basket mounted above the front wheel could fit Toto in a wicker basket and a bag of groceries, though this might accentuate the instability I felt. I prefer baskets mounted on either side of the rear wheel. But that's just me being persnickety.
Mind you, I'm a devoted partisan of Trek, the Waterloo, Wisconsin, firm that produced these B-cycles for Madison's new bike-sharing network. My own default ride is a 10-year-old Trek mountain bike.
The $1,000 B-cycle replacement fee was a distraction that made me feel vulnerable to liability throughout the ride. It also spurred me to exercise even more caution than usual while riding.
The three-speed grip-shift is a cinch. I like and use a good range of the 18 speeds on my default Trek, but three will do for most of Madison's isthmus.
The B-cycle is a bit bouncy over railroad crossings and rutted pavement, but the upright riding position and generous saddle soften and distribute shock in ways that lend the B-cycle the feel of a modest amusement-park ride.
The B-cycle handled some road roughage in the Lake Street construction zone with ease. I also took the B-cycle through some puddles and the fenders kept all the wheelspray off my ankles and shins. All of it. Not. One. Single. Drop.
Dig the kickstand.
Dig the chainguard for protection of trousers.
Along the Lake Monona bike path, it's easy to maintain a pedaling cadence of 80 or 90 rpm in second gear.
Coming up King Street in first? Not so much.
One accessory I wish the B-cycle had: a side-view mirror mounted on the left handlebar to monitor overtaking traffic.
Another accessory I wish the B-cycle had: toe clips. But that's just me. It's what I'm used to.
The handlebar grips on the B-cycle I took out for a spin proved a bit slippery after 30 or 40 minutes. Then again, it was a warm and humid day and my palms have been known to make their own weather in such conditions. Especially when childhood traumas like Elvira Gulch come to mind.
Returning a B-cycle to an available empty stall is easy. Push it into place. Listen for three beeps to signal it has been locked.
Bottom line: Saunter, Toto, saunter!