Columbus, or Cbus, is the least bike friendly city I’ve visited so far. I flipped off my first driver and, separately, came within 5 feet of my first accident (more on that later). Although downtown is graced with wide, smooth streets and relatively few cars (and seemingly fewer people), biking infrastructure is not prominent.
Urban planners take note: a bike logo with some chevrons in the middle of the road should not qualify as a bike lane. Columbus does that. Pittsburgh does that. Boston does that. New York does not. Drivers don’t register or respect hieroglyphs stenciled on the road, but they may keep away from a solid white line along the side. That’s the mark of a proper bike lane.
On the positive side, Cbus has bike route signs that indicate destination, mileage and travel time. Introduction of these signs in New York would help convert more people to bike sharing when they realize how little time it takes to get crosstown as opposed to a bus or taxi.
Better yet, Columbus has the cleanest city streets I’ve seen in America. You could organize a scavenger hunt to find litter and nobody would win because there’s nothing to pick up. And for bikers that means no sharp objects to worry about. What a relief.
I go CoGo
My first stop is to meet Josh, head mechanic for CoGo, Columbus’ bike sharing system. It launched around the time same time as Citi Bike, but is scaled far smaller. Josh Facebook messaged me while I was in Pittsburgh and invited me to stop in.
I really appreciate his gesture of support. Knowing he would be on the other end of those Ohio hills made me not give up hope. However, CoGo is owned by the same parent company as Citi Bike, making my unauthorized visit on an unsanctioned cross-country ride potentially awkward. It crosses my mind that this could be a trap to seize Countri Bike and send it back to New York.
Fortunately, Josh cares about bikes and not the politics behind them. He greets me with a grin at CoGo’s warehouse on the edge of downtown Columbus.
Only three employees are there, and while they are anticipating my arrival, they nonetheless look startled at seeing a blue bike from New York in their central Ohio warehouse. We gather around Countri Bike like a campfire as I regale them with background of how and why I pulled this off. All that’s missing is beer, s’mores and, well, a fire.
A glimpse of the future
I point out features of this newer model bike like I’m some sort of expert. Maybe I am now that I’ve gone 700+ miles on this thing. CoGo has the same equipment as the old Citi Bikes. Because Columbus is such a small market, they aren’t expecting these new bikes anytime soon, says Kristen, the marketing and communications manager.
Josh is dazzled by the bike in a playing-it-cool mechanic dude kinda way. He gave feedback to the company on how to improve the bikes, and is pleased they took his advice of redesigning the rear fender, which I think gives the bike its signature sleek flair.
Josh takes it outside for a test ride and returns glowing about the steering, gearing and tires. He puts it on the mechanic’s rack for an inspection, but little needs to be done. He tops off the tires with air, oils the chain and tightens the brakes, which got tested hard on the way over.
Too much green
I was heading east and approaching an intersection with multiple lanes of northbound traffic. A utility crew working near the corner blocked my sight lines, but I didn’t worry much about it because I had the green light.
Apparently so does intersecting traffic. A sedan on the inside lane shows no sign of stopping, which I realize just in time. I hit the brakes harder than ever before. I look up to confirm the driver is blowing through a red, but the light is green. And so is mine.
As a token of solidarity, Josh gives me a CoGo sticker and then shows me his collection of puncturables—items he’s removed from flat CoGo tires in more than two years. The objects barely fit in his palm. He’s most proud of a 2” rusty nail, which didn’t puncture the tire, but harmlessly stuck to the side. He simply peeled it off. I’m more impressed that there’s only one nail in two years of bike sharing. One? Two! You can bike or walk barefoot through Columbus without fear.
I drop by the Columbus Visitors Center to get advice on iconic photo spots. I pick up an Ale Trail map and, based on their recommendation, head to Wolf’s Ridge Brewery for a late lunch. They’re not serving food until dinner, but it’s happy hour at Barely’s Brewing Company, which means I get a burger and Russian Imperial Stout for $10.
One block over is North Market, Columbus’ version of Chelsea Market. For lunch the next day I have a delicious salmon burger and Cajun tilapia chowder from The Fish Guys. At night I ride along North High Street in the cool Short North neighborhood where I dine on a jalapeño grilled cheese from Melt, which has 30 varieties of my favorite childhood sandwich. A frozen custard from Whit’s across the street tops off the evening.
I also bike across the campus of Ohio State University and get flashbacks of freshman fall… until I see Ohio Stadium, which looms larger than Vatican City and has a more loyal and religious following. Did Dartmouth, my alma mater, even have a football team?
I spend two full days in Cbus, which to my mild surprise passes for a real city. I remember once standing around the East Village with friends trying to figure out someplace to eat.
“Come on people, I’m hungry,” my friend says. “Somebody decide. We have options here. It’s not like this is Columbus, Ohio.”
Maybe he meant Dayton? I’m here to say that Columbus has options, too, and much cleaner streets.