Tag Archives: BIXI

Cycling in Montreal

Biking is a Breeze
After spending 3 days cycling through Montreal, I have to admit they are years ahead of Vancouver.

Montreal BIXIFor only $15, I picked up a 3-day BIXI pass and used it to zoom around the city. I was impressed with how quickly the bikes turned over. Bikes were constantly being taken out and returned by users – a lot of them locals judging by how quickly they unlocked the bikes and pedalled away. The bikes are heavy and slow, but still way faster than walking and more interesting than taking the metro.

Montreal Separated Bike Lane Bike Lanes at Dusk
The separated bike lanes downtown are good (especially around the universities), but the real highlight was the network of separated lanes along commercial streets in the neighbourhoods around downtown, like the Plateau (think Commercial Drive in Vancouver).

There is also a good network of bike routes on quiet streets, salmon lanes against the traffic on 1-way streets, and trails along parks and train tracks. They even have cleaners ensuring the bike routes are free of glass and debris.
Bike Salmon Lane Route Vert Bike Trail Bike Lane Cleaner

Vancouver has some catching up to do.

Helmets are the Kryptonite of Bike Share

Bixi Chic
Helmets are the kryptonite of bike share systems. Nothing puts a damper on the fun, spontaneous travel that bike share facilitates like a foam lid designed to prevent brain damage in the most severe accidents. Shared helmets are gross and carting your own helmet is not convenient. It’s no surprise then that bike share users are less likely to wear helmets then cyclists who ride their own bike.

So what happens when you flood city streets with casual cyclists (many of them tourists) who have no desire to wear helmets? Many pundits predict carnage but time has proven them wrong. Bike share systems around the world have outstanding safety records. Even in busy New York City, where Citi Bikes are being used for bar hopping, it’s a safe way to travel.

Emergency room and city officials say they have not seen a notable spike in bike-related accidents since the 6,000 Citi Bikes were unleashed on the city streets in May. “There’s no obvious sign that there have been more bike injuries,” said Dr. Marc Stoller, the associate chairman of the emergency department at Beth Israel Medical Center, which serves much of Lower Manhattan.

Meanwhile, personal injury lawyers are on standby. Daniel Flanzig, a lawyer who focuses on New York-area bike accidents, said last month that he was “absolutely amazed” that he had not had a single case involving the bike-share program. “My phone rings three or four times a week with a private bike crash, but nothing involving Citi Bike,” he said.

Bike helmet vending machine for Melbourne bike share.Riding a bike share bike without a helmet is statistically safe, but in some cities it’s strictly illegal. So how do you introduce bike sharing in cities with helmet laws? Melbourne offers taxpayer subsidized bike helmets at vending machines and convenience stores, but uptake has been slow. Now they’re leaving free helmets on the handlebars of the bikes, but it isn’t working. Riders continue to shun the system and the Mayor of London openly mocked the helmet law when he visited Melbourne last week. Mexico City and Israel took alternative approaches when they opened their bike share systems. They simply scrapped the helmet laws and watched their bike share systems thrive.

Unfortunately, after years of delay and study, Vancouver has chosen to follow Melbourne’s flailing lead. Hamstrung by a provincial helmet law, Vancouver is getting a bike share system with an integrated helmet share system. I think it’s a bad idea for a number of reasons.
1) It’s expensive. The City won’t reveal exactly how much is being spent on helmet vending machines, but think millions of dollars. That’s money that could have been spent on buying more bikes and extending the area bike share covers (initially limited to the central core).
2) Requiring a helmet will deter ridership. There’s a significant portion of the population who won’t ride a bike with a helmet. Some may still rent a bike and risk the fine, but many will just skip the experience all together.
helmethub-beta3) It’s a logistical nightmare waiting to happen. Balancing a bike share system is complicated enough without helmets. You need to ensure that every station has bikes available and empty spots returns. If you have a good mix of users taking a variety of trips, this will happen naturally. When it doesn’t, you need to pay people to shuffle bikes around.

With the helmet system being proposed for Vancouver, you can’t rely on even trip patterns to balance the system. Each helmet vending machine only holds 36 helmets and each helmet will only be used once before it’s cleaned and inspected. In a successful bike share system, each bike is used 5-10 times per day. There just isn’t enough capacity to store that many helmets. So a lot of time and money will be spent shuffling new helmets stations and picking up the used ones, assuming people use them at all.

I really want Vancouver’s bike share system to succeed, and the helmet law needs to be scrapped before that can happen.

Thoughts on Toronto’s Bike Scene

Toronto Patio
Another trip to Toronto, another chance to compare The Big Smoke to Lotus Land. Last time I visited, it was the patios, streetcars, and compost pickup that caught my attention; this time it was the bikes and funky neighbourhoods.

Girl on Bike
Cyclists were everywhere. Hip, fashionable people riding fixed gear bikes. Women in skirts with flowery baskets on their bikes. Hardly anyone was wearing a helmet (maybe 30%) and, unlike Vancouver, not a single piece of Gore-Tex or lycra to be found. These weren’t the “hardcore cyclists” you often see in Vancouver, but people using bikes for what their best at – providing a convenient means of transportation.


We spent most of our time in the core of Toronto (especially around Bloor), where the city is dense, walkable, relatively flat, and dotted with BIXI stations. So my perspective on the popularity of cycling is probably skewed.

BIXI Station BIXI Toronto Bixi Chic

We did get to jump on BIXI bikes and cycle around Toronto ourselves. Renting bikes from BIXI was really easy. We were able to rent two bikes on one credit card, and once you’ve paid for your membership (we got 24 hour memberships for $5 each) you can take out bikes for free, as long as you return them in under 30 minutes. The bikes are heavy and don’t go very fast, although they do have 3 gears. Several times I felt bad for holding up a long line of cyclists behind, but most of them were going the same speed – I guess casual cyclists aren’t rushing from light to light.

Stop Driving Taxi in the Bike Lane Biking in Toronto
Biking through Toronto’s traffic calmed neighbourhoods is a joy – lots of old houses and large shade trees. The only downside is they’re a mess of one-way streets and we didn’t want to be “bike salmon”, although lots of others biked upstream. Some of the major streets have painted bike lanes (especially around U of T), but they’re often blocked by taxis and delivery trucks. I’m really impressed by the number of cyclists, considering the lack of dedicated bike infrastructure. One day we biked down to King and Bay, and I thought we were going to die. Google Maps told us that King is a bike route, but there isn’t even a painted lane or sharrow. We had to squeeze between parked cars and a busy traffic lane, trying not to get a wheel stuck in the streetcar tracks. It was the only time I really noticed I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

More pictures
Bixi Bike Truck Typical Toronto Home Road Bike
Bus Shelter Head Phones Cooling Down Victory Cafe Patio Ice Cream Truck Patio Brunch Baby Beach Time