My inaugural season with Bixi, Montreal’s public bike system, ended Nov. 15. In the almost six months I used the service, I found it was one of the best things about Montreal – or probably any city for that matter. Bixi or not, getting around by bike has been one of the defining changes of my newish urban life in Montreal.
I have a perfectly fine bike, a fine mountain bike that sat in a family member’s garage for years. Eventually, it was given to me when I moved to Montreal. However, for a couple important reasons I enjoyed using the Bixi more.
I’ve clocked more distance on bike in the last year than in the decade before that. I didn’t used to ride a bike, and probably wouldn’t have started except to make it my new primary means of transport. I’m continually surprised by how much more exercise I get in the average day here in Montreal than back not too long ago when I lived in Vermont. I used to live here (http://g.co/maps/h73c3) – surrounded by a whole lot of nothing. (A big change from my new home just off the Decarie in NDG – approx: http://g.co/maps/dmf8g ). Of course, Vermont is known for outdoor activities of all sorts, but even if I went hiking on the weekends, my daily travels were by car.
Since moving to Montreal, I started walking or biking more and more. Now, I go weeks without using public transit. (We don’t have a car.) Between heading downtown and back, pushing my son around in a jog stroller, or biking or walking up and down the Peel St. hill back to my place, I’m always moving around somewhere under my own power. Pretty much the only exceptions are if I’m going far with my son in tow or the weather is really bad.
Although I started riding my own bike as soon as I got here. I almost didn’t get a Bixi subscription. A eventually decided to try it out. I found it had several advantages over my bike. The biggest reason was just that I don’t worry about theft. My wife’s bike was stolen downtown, right on McTavish in front of the McGill bookstore, and it wasn’t even brand new or anything. Also, I tortured my bike until it was some type of minivan of bikes. With a basket on the front and kid seat in the back, it was heavy. The Bixi actually rolled quite a bit more easily. The durable Bixis also had all the gears and chains covered; with my bike I’m always on guard for oil on my pants. Since I was a new bicycle rider when I moved here, I was also surprised to find out that – just like a car – bikes seem to need periodic maintenance, which can cost money. With a rented bike, someone else handles that.
The main drawback was the possibility of heading out looking for a bike and finding out there were none available. (There is an app for that, but I didn’t always use it.) Likewise, parking at peak hours could be a pain as the racks do fill up. I still used my bike if I had my son with me in the bike seat, or was planning on picking up cargo. Also on the down side is the fact that they seem to be a popular target for vandalism. Way to stick it to the man – destroy some zero emissions, shared means of transport!
It’s hard to believe the bikes are gone already for the year, since it certainly doesn’t feel like winter yet, but they are. Thanks to the computerized tracking system, I know that I did over 600 km on the Bixis this year.Over the winter, I’ll be riding my mountain bike, which I will be putting snow tires
back on soon. That’s a whole other story I hope to write about soon. It’s a lot of work pedaling a bike through snow and ice, but I enjoy the exercise, which can be hard to get in the winter.
Bixi sometimes comes under fire, whether politically in the city council, or from residents who don’t like the parking spaces the racks take up, or from drivers who complain about the cyclists. (It could be worse.) I hope it
succeeds – including marketing to other cities – and that it is really here to stay. If you come to Montreal or you’re already here – get a Bixi pass.