Get on Your Bike

From San Sebastian to Stuttgart, from Adelaide to Amsterdam, in cities across the globe, bike schemes are springing up as city dwellers embrace the freedom of zipping about on two wheels. It’s been seven months since Krakow’s BikeOne set up shop, with their racks of distinctive blue-framed wheels dotted across town, and I was curious to find out how easy it would be to hit the road.

Like most city schemes, the biggest being the Parisian Velib launched in 2007, the concept is simple: you sign up with the company, pre-pay a fee, and then collect pins, passwords and IDs en-route, before returning the bike to one of the 15 stands. Currently there are 120 bikes in circulation. It sounded easy enough, before I – a non-Polish speaker – took to the Internet to register my commitment to fume-free travel. The first hitch is that if you can’t tell your ładny from your głodny then you’re going to need a Polish chum on standby to help you tackle this bit. The site is translated into English and German in some areas such as tariffs, but not where you sign on the dotted line, although the company’s working on this.

Sliding scale charges are straightforward enough: you can use the bike for up to 12 hours at a time, for 12 złoty a week, 25 for a month, 50 for three months or 100 for a season (March to December). You then pay a rental fee and BikeOne deducts payments from this amount depending on how long you use a bike. A nice touch about BikeOne is that rides of under 20 minutes are free. Also factor in a deposit of 120 złoty, refunded once you terminate your membership and not when you return the bike, although BikeOne is hoping to reduce this charge. If you’re unlucky or daft enough to get your bike stolen you’ll be walloped with a hefty 1,600-złoty bill.

Around two and a half thousand people have registered since November, but could BikeOne increase their appeal and tempt non-residents and “short-term” cyclists? BikeOne coordinator Rafał Malinowski told the Krakow Post: “We’re looking to introduce a seven-day subscription and some special offers for holiday periods. We also want to make it easier for tourists, especially foreigners, to join without registering if they stay in certain hostels.” BikeOne’s contract allows them to expand and it hopes to increase the number of bikes and stands with the help of companies and institutions sponsoring them.

Eager to put my BikeOne virginity behind me, I took a twirl along the Vistula. Unplugging the bike from the stand was simple, though it’s only unlocked for 15 seconds and a passing tram helpfully rumbled over the release alert beep. The first thing you notice is that the bikes use a backward pedal brake system. This took a bit of getting used to – the peddles seemed to lock until you got the knack of pushing off and balancing in the right position – a note about this on the website may not go amiss. That glitch aside, the bike’s a dream to zip along on, with three gears and a satisfyingly sturdy feel, which made hitting the ubiquitous Polish potholes and bumps along the edge of al. Pokoju a tad less painful than on my own boneshaker. The basket and map are useful little extras too and my tush loved the well-padded saddle.

I struck up a chat with fellow BikeOner Anthony Kostka while parking; I reckon BikeOne users could be like smokers puffing in the street outside their offices. Anthony joined a month ago and works in Mogilska where he jumps on a bike and cycles to his home in Salwator where there’s another stand. It’s easy to see why he’s a fan: “I can do my ride in about 19 minutes, twice a day, so I don’t have to pay. It’s good to have this option. It would be better to get more stands further out of the city so that people in the suburbs could use them too.”

So the verdict? For anyone without wheels, who doesn’t want the hassle of maintaining a bike, or for whom the thought of breaking into a sweat to get into town is too much to bear, this is definitely the way to go. The funky style looks great and if the guys can make it easier for visitors to hire them too, they’re onto a surefire winner. And if they can get those yawning gaps in the roads sorted out, they’d deserve their very own statue on the Rynek.

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