A certain young person recently borrowed my bike and returned it in less-than-ideal condition. While it is in the shop getting repairs, I decided to try out Hubway, Boston's bike-sharing service.
Renting a Bike
Memberships are 6 bucks for a day, 12 bucks for 3 days, and 85 bucks for a year. (If your employer is a partner, you can get the annual membership for much cheaper. Look on the website.) You get unlimited 30-minute or less rides during your membership period.
Head up to the kiosk, press "rent a bike" on the touchscreen, and swipe your credit card. Then use the incredibly laggy, ponderous touchscreen to put your phone number and zip code in. This is the only part of the process that isn't awesome. Fortunately you only have to do it once. For every future ride during your membership period, you just swipe your card and get a code.
The kiosk will then give you a 5-digit code which you can memorize or get printed out. Pick out your bike, punch the code in the rack, and when the light turns green, pull your bike out and go.
Returning a Bike
Drive up to any Hubway station, put your bike in the rack, making sure the triangular piece of metal above the front wheel locks in place, and when the light turns green, you're good to go.
These things are tanks. Think beach cruisers, but less zippy. I find them fun to ride, but not in the same way as my regular bike. These are big, solid bikes with step-through frames and chain guards, so you can ride in your work clothes without getting grease on 'em. The tires are wide enough that you can handle all the bumps and holes that our neglected road infrastructure throws at you with ease and comfort.
They're 3-speeds, and the internal hub gears work really well, so despite the considerable heft of these bikes, they aren't ever hard to pedal, even going uphill. What they don't do very well is go fast. You'll need to stand on the pedals and go like hell to get the bike up to high speed. My advice: don't bother. It's a comfortable, stately ride in an upright position.
When to Use It
Hubway bikes work really well for short hops. So, let's say you're visiting Boston and you want to go from the Common (not the Commons! Singular! Same with the Public Garden!) to the Aquarium. It's probably 20 minutes on foot or via the T, but that would be about a 5-minute Hubway ride. (I wouldn't fret about riding in downtown traffic. It's some of the slowest in Boston, and because there are so many pedestrians, drivers tend to be a bit more alert.) So if you're visiting Boston and want a really convenient way to get around all the downtown and Back Bay hotspots, I give this my highest recommendation.
But what about those of us who live here? Well, for me, commuting from Jamaica Plain, there are some pros and cons. The biggest con is probably the speed. It just slows down my commute. But this is mitigated a lot by the convenience. Not only is someone else maintaining the bikes, but when I get to work, I pop the bike in a rack and forget it. I don't have to worry about it tethered to a pole or a rack downtown. Better yet, if it starts to, oh, I don't know, hail or something, I can take the T home without having to worry about my bike. Or if it's raining in the morning, I can take the T and still bike home.
Also, let's be perfectly frank: the speed reduction may be good for me. I try to always ride cautiously, but because my hybrid bike is relatively fast and maneuverable, I sometimes get caught up in the moment and do something dumb on it. This never happens on Hubway bikes. When you see that light turn yellow, you know damn well you can't make it through, so you slow down and stop.
But, as I noted before, Hubway really excels for short hops. If you are trying to find ways to get more exercise, I think a Hubway membership is a great investment. (A better investment than a little computerized spy that is tracking your movements and heartbeats and sending the data to a central computer, in my opinion. Not to mention cheaper.) So here's my story: My house is 35 steps up from the street. I don't always haul my bike out for local errands because it feels like big deal. But last time I had to go to CVS, which is just over a mile away, I walked to one Hubway station near me and biked to one near CVS. I was able to add a little exercise into the errand running and didn't have to worry about parking. I also didn't have to devote as much time to the errands as I would have if I were walking.
But Hubway's best use for Boston residents, in my opinion, is replacing bus rides. If you routinely take a bus to get to a train and you have a Hubway station nearby, you can not only get a little exercise but also save yourself the frustration of waiting for and riding a bus. So if you're taking the 22 from Egleston to Jackson Square, for example, the Hubway is a quicker and better option. There's a Hubway in Dudley Square, so you could zip over to Roxbury Crossing in just a couple of minutes and not have to deal with buses. Or , if you're headed downtown, you could just ride down Washington Street in the bike/bus lane and pass about five Silver Line buses.
So there it is. Overall it's a great service that works exactly the way it's supposed to and helps you to get around and to get active at a bargain price.
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