Biking in Cincinnati

Where's Countri Bike? Photo credit to  5chw4r7z

Where's Countri Bike? Photo credit to 5chw4r7z

One of the best things about my ride is connecting with other bike sharing systems. I’ve previously visited programs in Pittsburgh and Columbus, and now it’s time for Cincinnati. My timing is perfect: tomorrow is the one year anniversary of Cincy Red Bike. I drop by their office the day before the birthday party.

Cincy Red Bike vs. New York Citi Bike
Britt, the pretty young Internal Operations Manager, lets me and Countri Bike inside. The blue bike convokes Red Bike staff. Jason the Executive Director appears and so does Frank the Board Treasurer who is also President of Queen City Bike advocacy group.

Doug, Jason, Countri Bike and Britt

Doug, Jason, Countri Bike and Britt

An unofficial bike sharing summit begins. Like an emissary dispatched from New York, I introduce Countri Bike and all of its features.

Then I learn about bike sharing in Cincinnati. By some metrics, Red Bike is doing better than Blue Bike. In their first year they didn’t lose a single red bike. How are your numbers looking, Citi? Oh, are you pointing a finger at me? Sorry, not sorry!

Last year Citi Bike was hardly nonplussed with unreturned bikes. And they still haven’t contacted me since I left Manhattan on August 7—except being asked to beta test the new Citi Bike app. I replied with a link to my website.

Red Bike expanded more quickly than Citi Bike, moving into three river cities in Kentucky: Bellevue, Covington and Newport. That’s right, Cincy Red Bike is also in Kentucky, making it the only fully integrated bi-state bike sharing program.

Although 50 stations and 385 bikes pale in comparison to NYC’s 6,000+ bikes, Cincy’s system is run by BCycle. Members from BCycle’s 18 bike sharing cities (Austin, Denver, Dayton, Indianapolis to name a few) have reciprocal renting privileges. You don’t get that with Motivate-owned cities like New York, Chicago, Columbus, San Francisco and Washington, DC. (As of last week, however, New Yorkers can ride bikes at 35 stations in Jersey City, but you cannot take bikes across the river.)

Time is Red Bike’s trump card. Users get a generous 60 minutes compared to 30 or 45 minutes in New York.

So what kind of effect has bike sharing had in Cincinnati?

“Drivers are definitely becoming more patient,” says Britt. “Now we have these big red bikes out on the street, you can’t ignore them. It’s taken biking to another level, and now it’s acceptable and accommodating to a lot of people. There has definitely been a shift in mentality.”

That’s why I’m fan of bike sharing. Drivers must take notice. Hundreds or thousands of rental bikes normalize the right to use two wheels on roadways dominated by four. Cycling isn’t just for hardcore riders with expensive bikes and electronics to track every turn and calorie burned. Biking is for you, for me, for him and for her. It’s for us. It’s for going to work, to the store, across town or out at night.

Pre-ride group meeting in Fountain Square

Pre-ride group meeting in Fountain Square

A ride around town with Dan
The next evening I join Urban Basin Bicycle Club for their weekly theme ride starting in Fountain Square. To coincide with the Red Bike party at Taft’s Ale House, we first head to the Taft Museum of Art, which is different from the Taft Boyhood Home farther away. Outside the museum we gather for a group photo before looping through downtown’s deserted streets.

The ride to Over-the-Rhine, my favorite Cincy neighborhood, is short and sweet. Countri Bike stands out like a blue thumb, which makes meeting people easier. There’s fashionable Fabiola, a native of Venezuela who bikes with her little dog Jack. Dan doesn’t have a dog, but the brand account coordinator for a design company strikes me as creative and cool. With his love of beer and bikes we have plenty to talk about. I think he’d be great friends with Kieran from Pittsburgh. (Dan’s in The North Face shirt behind Countri Bike.)

Photo credit to  5chw4r7z

Photo credit to 5chw4r7z

Happy Birthday, Red Bike!
Taft’s Ale House is just a block from where I met the Red Bike gang yesterday. They welcome me back and we raise a glass together. Bike sharing is celebrating its first birthday while the brewpub is celebrating the launch of Red Bike Beer, which must be the first beer named after bike share. Light and smooth, the beer is exactly what you’d wanna gulp after a sweaty ride, but not something to impair you from pedaling home.

Taft’s Ale House is a former church from 1850. It has nothing to do with President Taft, but so long as the beer is good, who cares? And making good beer seems to be a priority. Their website warns: "To serve a shoddy brew is an act akin to treason."

The interior is nicely refinished and the bathrooms are the spiffiest I’ve ever seen in a brewery. A bar on the balcony level looks down on the congregation of beer swillers. Dan and I head upstairs to have a drink from a different angle. A woman from the ride sees me and insists on buying me a drink, which I graciously accept.

Taft's Ale House, balcony view

Taft's Ale House, balcony view

It’s about 10pm and the crowd has dwindled. Red Bike staff are gone. Dan works tomorrow and has to ride home up a hill. I call my cousin Mark who drives about 15 miles to pick up me and Countri Bike. On my way out I meet one of the partners of the brewery. He’s heard about my journey and hands me another golden glass of Red Bike Beer. Prost, Cincinnati, you’re great!