Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Longmont Bike Share - Zagster Has Landed!

Hi! It's been awhile. I've been busy trying to be a good human and attempting to find some sort of normal schedule with which to complete things, but (as is obvious if you've come here looking for posts and don't find anything new), somewhere along the way this space wasn't added into the schedule. Every week I say, "Ah, yes, I have many things I could be chatting about with others on E.V.L. Go woman! Go and share!" and then nothing happens because I get sidetracked with approximately 101 other things that need to get accomplished... and then I have a habit of losing interest in whatever it was I was going to share. Eeek!

When last I had shared though, I wrote about a NOS bicycle that I had ordered that hadn't yet arrived. It did finally make its way here (actually, not long after that post) and I've been happily riding it all around. Although it was a completely unnecessary bicycle to purchase, I could not help myself (which will make more sense when I share more... I think... although not much of what I do seems to make sense - only in my contorted mind that likes to make up logic).

While I'm not quite ready to share that story today, I did want to chat about a recent addition to our local transportation.

Longmont, Colorado is not exactly a hotbed for the newest or latest, nor it is the preeminent authority on most things bicycle-related. This is not to say that we don't have infrastructure or bike lanes in our community, nor that we don't have some fantastic places to ride, but rather that it seems we take a back seat to our very close neighbors in Boulder, Colorado. EVERYONE it seems has heard of Boulder, been to Boulder, knows someone who lives in Boulder, used to live in Boulder, went to school in Boulder, works in Boulder, and so on.  Boulder, Boulder, Boulder. Yes, we get it. Boulder is the Marcia Brady of cities. I would actually argue that there are many attributes Longmont possesses that Boulder simply cannot top, but that is a debate that doesn't need to be had in this time or place.

It is easy though to feel that we sometimes are the forgotten part of the county. So, about a year ago when I started hearing rumblings of a bike share program test, I was a little surprised (but secretly super excited) to see what would come of it. Mostly, I thought that it would never happen. Who comes to Longmont? Would a bike share program even get used? True, we are a very quickly growing city, but I couldn't help but wonder if such a program would ever come to fruition.

Lo and behold, this bike share program has arrived. Granted, it's an initial test to see if it is feasible, usable, practical, affordable, and so on for the city (or at least that is my understanding), but I am beyond thrilled to see this come about. On April 20, the bike share officially launched!

Why Zagster instead of B-Cycle (as Boulder and Denver already use)? Well, I suppose it made more sense for our smaller community because Zagster is able to help in many ways such as designing the right sized bike share program for our specific community, riders can use a mobile app that helps the city know what is working (and potentially, isn't) with the program and users, and perhaps most importantly for the city, Zagster has a national team of mechanics that services the bicycles allowing the city to keep focused on what needs to get done rather than on maintaining the bicycles around town.

Longmont is the third city in Colorado to join with Zagster. We are following in the footsteps (tire roll?) of both Fort Collins (which launched in March 2016) and Westminster (launched in June 2016). Zagster promotes having both flexible and affordable programs to help better serve the riders in mid-sized cities, so I think it was the right opportunity for our growing community.

I would agree that the program seems fairly affordable. While the idea of $3/hour could get a bit pricey if looking at it in terms of multiple hours, I think the one month fee of $15, or $60 for an annual membership is quite reasonable.

After hearing that a bike share program might be in the works last year, I have to admit I pretty much let it go from my mind though because I frankly didn't see it happening, so when I saw in recent weeks that it was starting soon, I had no idea where the stations would actually be located. My curiosity got the best of me right after the launch and Sam and I went on a hunt to find the stations. Sadly, I wasn't aware enough to realize I could've just logged on to Zagster's website to get the locations. It was fun to hunt them down regardless.

Ten Zagster stations currently stand in Longmont
For those who may be curious and/or local and not know where the stations are, they are listed below. There are a total of 10 stations throughout the city (I'll detail some thoughts on the "throughout" the city portion in a moment):
Mountain View near Hover St, at Longmont United Hospital
Alpine and Mountain View, just outside Centennial Pool (the station itself is on Alpine St)
Coffman and 8th, beside the main bus stop
Coffman and 5th, just to the south of the county buildings
Kimbark and 4th, at the Library
Ken Pratt and Bowen, just outside Chuburger
Ken Pratt and Hover St, right outside Oskar Blues/the new pedestrian underpass at Hover
Off of Quail Rd, just outside the Rec Center
Sunset St just north of Pike Rd, outside of Oskar Blues Brewery
Nelson and Airport Rd, outside Cyclhops

In case it isn't obvious, Oskar Blues was one of the sponsors of Zagster (also sponsoring the program are Longmont United Hospital, Envision Longmont, Boulder County, and Visit Longmont), so their four locations in town have stations just outside.

I believe the city and Zagster did a fairly decent job of spreading out the locations of the stations, but I am disappointed to see that none were placed on the north side of the city. In the future, it would be nice to see additions at the north west side of town (perhaps at Lake McIntosh or at Hover and 21st?) and another station on the north side (perhaps at Main St and 21st or even outside of the Walmart at Hwy 66/Main St), but I realize this is still early and a test to see how the program is used and potentially where it can go. There also aren't businesses to sponsor the bicycles in those locations -- well, at least the north west locations. Perhaps as sponsors are added, it may help with adding stations as well.

But, how do these bicycles ride and is the phone app easy to deal with? Well, I wanted to know so I set out to test them both for myself.

Downloading the phone app was super easy. I have an android phone, so I visited the Play Store, searched for Zagster, and installed the app. I did note that the app doesn't have a very high rating (2.7 stars to be exact), so that concerned me mildly, but then I also considered that we humans today like to complain a lot about our electronics not working instantly and the way we want, so I wasn't entirely sure how much of the low-star-rating is whining and how many were/are legitimate complaints about usability. It's a nearly 33MB download, so it took a couple of minutes (or perhaps my phone is just slow), but then I was ready for my first test.

To set up the app, the user enters his/her name, phone number, email, birth date and then selects the location s/he would like to join (meaning, the city's bike share being used). There is a long user agreement to agree to (I did scan for important notices, but did not thoroughly read word-for-word the entire agreement, but it seemed reasonable... you're going to be charged if you don't return the bike, don't do illegal things, lock the bike up if it's left unattended, and so on). It took a few minutes to get the whole thing set up, so if one were in a hurry, I'd say setting up the app beforehand is probably a good idea. The user attaches a credit card to the account so that s/he is billed in accordance with the plan selected (hourly, monthly, annually).
After that was set up, I set off to take my first bike share ride! I decided to try the system out at the Longmont United Hospital location. At first, I couldn't find the bikes, but I think it was because I expected to find them outside of the emergency room entrance (I have no idea why this was my initial thought), but they are actually easy to find, just outside and to the left of the main entrance. Which makes sense.
When I arrived at the station, I was greeted by a sign that briefly explains the program, as well as the locked bikes.
The station has locks for 10 bicycles (there are a total of 50 bikes available throughout the city), but a few spaces were empty. I admit that I did go by a few and squeeze the tires to see if they had air, and they all seemed to be in functioning shape (which they should be as the program has only been open a very short time). Had any of the bicycles required air, there is a pump available at the station.
Checking out the bicycle was easy. The app gets opened, the user types in the bicycle's individual number, and the app responds with a code to unlock the bike. The user punches in the four digit code and removes the cable from just below the saddle, releasing the bike.
I took off on the bicycle and immediately ran into a problem. The seat post wouldn't stay put. I got off the bike and tried tightening the seat collar with the quick release, but it still sank down almost immediately and continued to shift side to side throughout my ride. I decided not to bother with it for my test because I knew I wasn't going to be traveling far, but it was a little concerning to me - particularly for someone who may be riding with little to no experience with bicycles.

The bicycle itself is manufactured by Breezer, and the rider sits upright with easy mounting and dismounting via the step-through frame.
The twist shifters easily transitioned between the 8 gears available and the hand brakes worked very well, even when descending hills.
The bicycles come equipped with fenders and a chainguard, as well as a front basket and a bell (that had a pleasant sound that can be heard here).
The basket has capacity to hold a fair amount, though it is not as large as some might like to see. To be fair, I think the basket would hold a moderately sized grocery bag, so it's certainly adequate to hold a few items. I also think that if a person happened to have a strap of some sort with them, the rear rack could be used to attach items. There is also a mounting area at the side of the rear rack to attach a pannier, making additional storage a possibility if the rider were prepared.
I personally love that each bicycle comes equipped with dynamo powered front and rear lights, making it easier to use these bicycles both in the evening/early morning, and in lower-visibility situations.
The saddle was reasonably comfortable (given that I am quite particular about my saddles), and I took in to account the reality that most people are going to ride these bikes for 1-3 miles at most.
The tires seemed adequate for city-type terrain; meaning that they have appropriate tread for covering pavement, packed dirt, asphalt, and so on.

During my ride, I went over several bumps, up and down small to average sized city of Longmont hills, and endured a stint with some rough winds, and the bike handled adequately. One particularly violent wind gust had me correcting to get the bike back on track, but I suspect that would be more an oddity than the norm as most inside-the-city rides are protected by buildings, at least somewhat, from overly gusty winds. The gearing seems appropriate for the hills that could or would be tackled in our city and it was easy to just get on and ride without a lot of fussing. The bike I rode was slightly rattly (something I wouldn't expect from a set of new bicycles), but I also understand that this is not a personal bike being set up to my own specifications, likes/dislikes, and so on, and that the components being used are not (of course) the most expensive.

When I returned the bike to a station, I went back into the app to end the ride. It provided instructions as to how to ensure the bike is properly locked (it required holding the lock button and sliding the orange handle down on the bike to lock back into place) and how to end the ride. Overall, a simple, easy to use experience.

The seatpost conundrum was still weighing on me though, so I went around the station to test other seatposts to see if they were any different. Of the handful I tried there, none of them would stay in place with any amount of hand pressure applied. The seatposts all moved easily from side to side and up and down without even the weight of a body on the saddle. I am not a tall rider, so it wasn't a huge deal for me not to be able to get the saddle precisely where I wanted, but it still seems concerning to me that both taller riders would be stuck in a very low position, and that even riding the saddle at it's lowest point results in movement from side to side.

Also of note is Zagster's "strong recommendation" for riders to wear a helmet when riding; however, there are no helmets available to use when checking out a bike. In the case of someone traveling by foot (as I was on this particular day), I'd have no need to have a bike helmet on my person, so it would be nice to see bike helmets available for use with the bikes. Perhaps even making it part of the bike checkout process would be simple enough and encourage riders to wear a helmet.

Additionally, after my test ride I emailed Zagster with questions about the seatpost and inquiring whether this is typical of bike share bicycles at other locations, or if it was simply a run of bad luck at my particular location. As of the writing of this post, I have not received a response, but I will update with information when it becomes available.

During my email contact I inquired about pricing structure. The wording of the user agreement sounds as though there is an annual fee associated with the use of Zagster, and I wanted to clarify that matter as well. I also wanted to know whether monthly and annual users are automatically charged or if charges only take place if Zagster is used during the given time frame. Again, I have not yet heard back in this regard but will update as soon as I have more information.

In the meantime, if you are a local, I encourage you to try out our new bike share. If you have tried it, I'd love to hear how your experience went and if you see yourself (or family, visitors, etc) using this new service in our fair city. If you aren't local, do you have a bike share system available in your city? Have you encountered any problems in using the system/bikes? How has your city ensured that the bike share program continues to be available to inhabitants and visitors alike? If you'd like a bit more information, there is also a Times-Call article that can be found here.

Post Script: I heard back from Zagster regarding the seatpost issue. They were helpful in their reply and stated that the seatpost should be movable, but shouldn't shift after it is secured (which is, yes, obvious), so they are sending a mechanic out to have a look at the particular bike in question. I am still curious as other bikes at that particular corral seemed to have the same problem, but we shall see! 

Additionally, I received further clarification about the fees associated with the bike share. So, for the hourly rental, it is simply $3/hour and no recurring charges take place beyond that. With the monthly and annual subscription, the fees are billed every month, but there is also an additional charge of $3/hour AFTER the first hour of riding. So, assuming that an individual only needs the bike for short amounts of time, there would be no additional fees, but if the bike is out longer than an hour, subscribers should expect to see the $3/hour charge after the first hour. If ever a user wants to cancel the account, s/he can email or call, or use the website online to change or end service.

It was also pointed out that if ever a person is in need of immediate/urgent assistance, s/he should call Zagster's phone number, which is readily available via the app service.

6 comments:

  1. It's wonderful to hear that you have a bike share program available. I'm intrigued by your experience with it too. That seat post things is frustrating. Memphis is supposed to be getting a bike share system soon. I'm eager to try it out myself!

    It's good to hear from you again. I'm curious about your NOS bike. I've just made a significant rearrangement in my own stable of bikes. I sold Sassy, my Dutch bike. I'll be doing a lot more multi-modal commuting now that I live downtown, and Sassy really isn't made for that kind of thing. As much as I love my big red monster, I believe a bike should be ridden, and it was making me crazy thinking of Sassy sitting in the bike room in the basement getting virtually no miles. No worries, she's going to a good home. :-)

    I replaced Sassy with a Bike Friday Pakit. I've had it for a week and love, love, love it so far. It's also coming with me Belgium, where I'll be working for a month from mid-May to mid-June. So, now I've got two bikes. Vixen (the Bianchi Volpe) for long rides and Whimsy (the folder) for commutes and air travel.

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    1. Hi! :)

      Sounds like you're getting your bike situation settled and finding just the right combination of wheels that work for your life. So awesome! I've had a few people tell me how much they love their folding bikes (various makers/models), so I'm glad to hear yours is working out nicely -- or at least has thus far. I suspect it would be very convenient, particularly in a city. Sam actually bought me a folding bike several years ago for Christmas and I never rode it. I felt ridiculous on it... but, we also lived in the middle of nowhere, so it was difficult to find reasons to ride it. It didn't last long, needless to say.

      I'd be interested to hear how the Memphis bike share comes along. I'm finding more and more cities (even smaller sized ones - not that Memphis is small) are getting on board with this, and I am thrilled! I am truly shocked that our city is even trying this out, but I hope they find it to be something that many people will use.

      As for the new bike here, it's probably only exciting to me, but you know how it is... I feel the need to share regardless. :) Soon. Assuming that I don't disappear for two months again. hehe

      Hope that spring is treating you well and that you're enjoying life in the city!

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  2. The sliding seat post problem, ugh, is a major faux pas for a bike share company, if you ask me. I'd be interested to know the outcome of your query, just because it sounds like an odd situation.

    I kept ogling the bike share bikes, loving the style, then you answered my question: they are Breezer bikes. I have admired their loop frame style for years. Interesting to find the company branching into the bike share realm.

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    1. Yes, the sliding seat post was not exactly ideal. I'm hoping that whomever goes to check it out looks at all the bikes there because several had the same issue. I would think it's simply that they didn't get put together properly from the start? Maybe? Surely they couldn't already have issues.

      Yes, Breezer bikes. They actually ride quite nicely (sans the seat dropping - which should easily be resolved). I'm not sure if Breezer has a contract with Zagster for all their locations or just here... or, perhaps they are transitioning?

      I am very happy to see this bike share happening locally!

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    2. I just heard TODAY that our community is getting bike share later this year!

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    3. Woo hoo!! Can't wait to hear all about it. :)

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