B-cycle Madison

Cruising, B-cycle style

Last Friday I finally got a chance to use the B-cycle system in Madison. I had a series of meetings, the first of which was at Shine Advertising. Luckily there were conveniently located B-cycle stations near the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin‘s current Madison office (we are moving SOON, call the Madison office if you can help) and the advertising agency’s office, so Kevin Hardman, Amanda White and I were easily able to use the bike sharing system to get to our meeting.

registering online, downloading the B-cycle app to my iPhone and checking out a bike took all of 15 minutes, how simple is that?

The comfortable, well spec'd and easy to adjust bikes will fit most people from 5' to 6' 6" tall. Baskets, fenders, dyno-hub powered lights, built-in locks, skirt and chain guards and platform pedals make the 3 spd bikes perfect for short trips.

The 24 station, 230 bike system is growing all the time and will eventually be complete with 350 bikes and more stations. The full system is expected to be up and running later this year, but in the mean time, I found the current 24 bike station worked very well.  In fact, I thought it was easier to find B-cycle stations in our State Capital than it was to find Capital Bikeshare stations when I was using the longer running Capital Bikeshare system in Washington, D.C.

Kevin and Amanda return the bikes to a station withing a couple blocks of our meeting, which made lock-up a snap.

Certainly one of the keys to a successful bikeshare system is density, but there is more to it than that from a user perspective.  Most people will judge their experience based on the ease of use when they approach the kiosks and how they like riding the bikes.

From that perspective I rate the B-cycle system excellent.  It was super easy to register my membership, download the mobile app to my iPhone, and check out a bike.  Once on the bike, I was able to put my bag in the well-designed front basket much more easily than the bent hook-like rack worked on the Washington, D.C. system. I really had absolutely no complaints about my experience with B-cycle, whereas I didn’t like the front rack and bungy on the Capital Bikeshare system in D.C.

Brian Conger (L), B-cycle Madison Manager and Chuck Strawser (R), UW Madison Bike/Ped Coordinator discuss the system and maintenance issues for some UW campus stations.

I also had a real problem downloading the mobile app for the Capital Bikeshare system.  This was more than a little glitch in my experience in Washington, because their stations were not placed close enough to make them easy to find.  After walking aimlessly for a while looking for a station, I called a friend sitting in his DC office to ask him to direct me to a station because the mobile app would not download.  This may have been as much an AT&T/iPhone problem as it was a Capital Bikeshare problem, but from a system user perspective it felt like a problem with the bikeshare.

The proximity to B-cycle headquarters in Waterloo, makes it ideal to use Madison as a test lab to some degree.   As new innovations and upgrades are made to the bikes, kiosks and operating system, you can expect them tried out first in the real-world environment of Madison’s bikeshare system.

I asked Madison B-cycle program manager Brian Conger how things have been going and he was cautiously up-beat.  The program has not been entirely without problems.  The biggest issue has been users not understanding that the bikeshare is great for short trips, but not designed as an all-day rental.  Some people have taken bikes home and kept them in their garage to use for the weekend.  Then they call B-cycle hollering that they were charged hundreds of dollars.  B-cycle has refunded the money in those situations and expects that as understanding of the rate system improves they will have less of that.

Currently the B-cycle pricing system is designed only for bike sharing.  A 24 hour pass is only $10, but hourly rates still apply.  What that means is for $10, you can check out a B-cycle as many times as you want and you will not be charged as long as you return it to another station in less than 30 minutes.  Trips longer than 30 minutes are billed at a moderated rate scale. 

Available at stations or online
$10 credit towards your Annual Membership with purchase of 24-Hour Pass at any B-station
Sign up online – includes personal online profile
with ride tracking
24-Hour Pass $10 Memberships Adult Student
7-Day $30
Annual $65 $45

   Additional Fees

Additional Fees

First 30 Mins.of Each Trip Included First 30 Mins.of Each Trip Included
30 – 60 Mins. $2 30 – 60 Mins. $2
 Every Additional 30 Mins.  $5 Every Additional 30 Mins. $5
Max. Charge per Day $75 Max. Charge per Day $75

As of July 23rd, there were a few shy of 1,600 memberships sold and about 3,500 trips logged on the partial system in Madison. Those numbers are a bit below projections, but in light of our summer heat and the incomplete system, B-cycle is pretty happy so far. There have been a few problems with stations not operating correctly, either not charging, not turning on, etc., but those glitches have been few and far between.  Overall the other B-cycle systems around the country have been operating pretty smoothly, but no system is perfect, which is why B-cycle wanted to use Madison to improve their products.

If you have been using the B-cycle system or watching it grow, please write your comments below.  Did you like the bikes or not?  Do you have suggestions to improve the system?  Where would you like to see a new station?

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

11 thoughts on “B-cycle Madison

  1. Of course I immediately compared the B-cycle rates to Milwaukee County’s bus.

    In time there might be a competition.

    That day rate on the bus is a possibility once the new farebox arrives. But $10 might be a stretch for a bus ($10 = about four separate bus fares); maybe $5 would work on the bus.

    I love the idea of the 30 minute time limit (no extra charge) which would be an interesting challenge to bus service to implement; but some free riding on public buses and streetcars has been implemented in some cities, and it does increase the fares collected.

    The B-Cycle annual rate of $65 is about 10% an annual bus rate. $65 is about the value of a monthly (ride anytime) bus pass. UWM and Marquette students ride the bus free – one of the benefits of governmental units (gasp!) collaborating.

    The different fares will of course reflect the capital costs, and the volume of riders (one per bike; compared to as many as 50 to 70 on a bus). But there are interesting switch points where some lucky people will have a choice.

    I wonder if we could get this in Milwaukee without talk radio screaming “that money would be better spent on [fill in the blank]”

    • Good thoughts Bill, because bikesharing is really more a transit-like pedestrian accelerator than a bicycle program. There is strong interest from a number of private developers and retail business owners for a bikesharing system in Milwaukee after B-cycle did their demo at Discovery World. I wouldn’t be surprised if Milwaukee had a small pilot system that was entirely privately funded and run in a year.

  2. I tried the Nice Ride system in Minneapolis. I really enjoyed it – the bikes are actually nicer than my little heap, the trail system is navigable, they gave me an excellent map and it was easy to use. I did have trouble with the basket which is probably the same as what you experienced in DC.

    The day rate for Nice Rides is $5 (plus a deposit). https://www.niceridemn.org/how_it_works/

    $10 is too expensive. In a city as walkable as Madison I wouldn’t bother with the bikes as transit for that price. Maybe if the initial time was an hour, but only if I was doing a pleasure cruise. I rode my bike there in college and found the trails to be nice, but the roads were pretty hostile – I have seen some of the worst driving ever in Madison.

    • I think the key will be annual memberships for the majority of users. The $10 fee though is certainly not too high for visitors. It is a heck of a lot cheaper than bringing a bike on a plane.

  3. Admittedly I’m not the target audience for bike share as I live in the Isthmus and of course own a few bikes. I wonder who the target audience is. I would guess commuters who bus or drive downtown and need to tool around the Isthmus for short trips, and tourist. For locals living in the area nearly everyone already owns a bike.

    It certainly appears to be a rather small group of people who would use bike share so I’m not surprised by the lower number of users then expected. Overall I see bike share as a very minor addition to bike use.

    The best thing about the program is that the bikes are very nice. It’s actually difficult to find a bike this well set up for commuting in the local bike shops. Try finding a bike with fenders, chain guard, coat skirt, integrated lighting system, basket, internal gearing, and other commuter goodies in bike shops can be an exercise in frustration. Hopefully this may push the local shops to start catering more to commuter needs as opposed to exclusively pushing sport bikes.

    • Adam,

      Thanks for the comments. I agree the bikes are quite nice commuters, but I have to say it is getting easier and easier to find bikes like that. The Trek Belleville is just one such example, but there are many others now. The commuter bike is becoming a bigger and bigger segment of the market as bicycle trips for transportation rather than recreation now make up the majority of all trips.

      As for bike sharing’s target audience, you are correct that the person who walks, drives or takes transit will make up the majority of users rather than existing cyclists. While many on the isthmus do already bike, I think you will find B-cycle dramatically increases the number of people on bicycle. Every modern bike sharing system in the world has done so, I see no reason why Madison will be different. Even Copenhagen is looking to replace it’s second generation bikesharing with a modern system, and 40% of all trips are by bike there.

    • From experience in Minneapolis, you might be surprised how attractive a bikeshare program can be even for avid cyclists. I own a few bikes but for the rather low annual rate of my membership, I feel like I get my money’s worth. A few examples of times I take a bikeshare rather than my own ride: 1. Going out in a bar area or elsewhere that I don’t want to lock up my personal bike for security (dismantling light, seat, locking tires, etc.). 2. Making a one-way trip or when I know my destination is open ended. 3. Walk/drive somewhere and like having the option for return. For me it’s about flexibility and always knowing it’s option, without the string of my own bike attached. Just as there is a time for each of the bikes you own, their’s a time for using the bikeshare.

  4. I had two family members visiting from out of state a few weeks ago. We took a day trip out to my wife’s family’s farm in Southwest Wisconsin and stopped in Madison briefly to see the Farmer’s Market and the UW campus. This involved about two miles of walking on a nice summer day.

    We passed by a B Cycle station and I suggested we grab some bikes to help us cover more ground. The people I was with were young and fit, but not “cyclists” by any means. In fact they may not have ever ridden a bike in 10 years. So hopping on a bike to get somewhere quickly, which for me has become like second nature, for them was a little suspect. They wouldn’t have been inclined to do it without me talking them into it.

    Unfortunately, the B Cycle’s interface and rate structure was not helping me make the case. It was confusing, because it wasn’t altogether clear whether one needed to be a member or not to get a bike. One member of our party said something like, “oh, you need to be a member? Forget it.” Then when we figured out you didn’t need to be a member to get a 24 hour pass, the response was “ten bucks is too expensive. Forget it.” And they had a good point. We were only in Madison for an hour or two, just enough time to circle the Farmer’s Market and have a beer on the Union Terrace. A $3 bike rental to aid these activities makes more sense than $10 for a whole day of sight seeing. I may have been willing to pay the Ten Bucks, knowing that would pay toward a membership, since I’m in Madison often and I might use these bikes in the future. But my out of state visitors had no interest in becoming members.

  5. I am really happy to see a bike share program come to Madison. I will be joining as soon as the planned station for my neighborhood is built.

    I predicted that their biggest problem would be people not understanding the difference between bike share and bike rental. I wish the folks at B-Cycle would make a bigger point of advertising this, even suggesting that people looking for day rentals try out local businesses like Machinery Row and Williamson Bicycle Works. I’m sure those places would appreciate the plug as well. Even the State Journal article about B-cycle from this week called it a rental program in their headline. That was annoying.

  6. Good post. There definitely is a bit of a learning curve to these types of bike share systems, but in my experience they generate so much interest on the ground that people generally get over their hestitation pretty quickly as they interact with other users.

    Regarding your app trouble, I use one called Bixou that supports the B-cycle cities but also WashingtonDC, Minneapolis and Boston. Which is perfect for me because I travel a fair bit, so I don’t need to have an app for each system. I’ve come to prefer it, it’s more stable, the interface is better and the station status is visible on the map.

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