It’s time to start biking. With Cannon out of commission, tourism in full swing, and transplants funneling into Charleston as if fried chicken was gold — our cars are squeezing like sausage meat through the one ways streets. Not to mention parking meters, potholes, and horse-drawn buggies (nothing against the horses!).
With two bike share programs (BSPs) up and running, Charleston is grasping at two-wheeled transport for dear life.
It’s a pretty idea: you hop on a twee townie bike, drop a couple bucks, and laugh as you pass the angry mobs trolling for parking on King. You hop off a few calories lighter and the environment loves you.
The reality looks more like this: you’re sweating and juggling your low-battery smartphone, wallet, and a U-lock that seems made to foil Houdini. Once on the bike, you realize that biking in Charleston is a Mario Kart game without extra lives. If you were smart, you checked the app to ensure an open space at your destination hub. More likely, you’ve given up and just locked the bike to the closest non-moving object, incurring a fee, and walked away with a wet spot on your ass from where the summer stormwater pooled on the cruiser’s seat.
But there is hope. BSPs are booming — they’ve grown from 13 around the world to 855 in the last decade, and with good reason. Cities with more bikeshare programs actually report fewer biking injuries and less traffic. There’s that health and environmental stuff, too.
So the question is: Affordabike or Holy Spokes? As the wise Earl Smooter said in Sweet Home Alabama: “You can’t ride two horses with one ass, sugarbean.”
• $5 fee for parking it outside a hub
• $50 fee for leaving it outside the system area
Hubs on the peninsula: 25
How it works: Download the SoBi app or register using the solar-powered screen on any bike. You get a 6-digit registration number and make a 4-digit pin. Input those on any available bike to unlock it. Ride ’til your legs give out, but you can take a coffee break and put the bike on hold (meaning no one can come along and unlock it) for up to 30 minutes.
Who’s behind it: Created by the Charleston-based company The Gotcha Group and funded by MUSC, Holy Spokes is backed by a nation-wide operation called Social Bikes (SoBi for short), which runs similar programs all over the country, including L.A., Atlanta, Portland, and Phoenix.
• Easy to use — once you sign up, everything you need is right there on the back of the bike to lock and unlock anywhere as you wish.
• 25 locations, so you won’t have to look far to find or re-lock a bike.
• It has three gears, not that you really need them on the peninsula.
• The display gives you real-time stats on cost, distance, time, calories, CO2 emissions saved, and after you’re done, you can see a GPS map of your ride in the app or online.
• It’s relatively stylish, as far as BSPs go, as if Nike and O.P.I. nailpolish collaborated on design.
• The app has a sleek user interface and doesn’t crash.
• Social Bikes has a killer online help site if you need it. They’re nationwide and deal with L.A., so they’ve got this BSP thing down.
• One user can rent up to three bikes, so you can drag friends along!
• You have to remember numbers, ugh. Your 6-digit number is in the app, but you need it and your 4-digit pin to unlock the bike.
• It’s more expensive.
• That cool tracking system? The government is tracking you, too. All Holy Spokes data goes to the city for analysis.
• $6/hour; $3/ each additional hour
• $100 pre-authorization on your card
• $20 fee for parking it outside a hub
How it works: Download the MoveSmart App, input your credit card, sign your life away, and you’re good to go. Find a hub using the app (warning: click on hubs to see available bikes; don’t go by the red/green colors). Select a bike on your phone, then push the button on the U-lock and wait for the flashing blue light to turn green. Important: you must put away your phone to hold the U-lock with both hands. That’s the catch-22; if the lock light just keeps flashing, you won’t know it failed unless you look at your phone, but you’re not supposed to be looking at your phone because you need both hands for the U-lock in case it turns green. Assuming you’ve passed this level, you’re now free to ride your cruiser … kind of. The seats collect puddles, you only have one gear, and the U-lock holder obstructs your front wheel turning radius. If you can get the bike lock to work, lock it back to a hub, push and hold the button until it turns red, take the mandatory photo you must submit as evidence of return, and promptly find a Holy Spokes hub if you want to do this BSP thing and maintain your sanity.
Who’s behind it: The local, affable Affordabike shop, which is wonderful in nearly every way except the usability of their BSP. According to the website: “Affordabike was founded in 2009 under the premise that bikes are too expensive and people at bicycle shops are generally not very nice.” If that’s not reason enough to like them, the shop leads free rides around Charleston, gives tips on how to protect your ride from thieves, and spreads news about philanthropists gifting bikes to school kids. It’s hard not to like them.
• Like the name suggests, it’s very affordable.
• You can’t not like the friendly small business behind it.
• It’s Charleston’s OG BSP, so it has seniority.
• Comfy seats
• App has a user interface like the early aughts. Also, the hubs in the app are colored, but the colors are meaningless. For example, a red hub may have four bikes available. In fact, the red hub at Marion Square apparently has seven available bikes even though it only has capacity for four, according to the app.
• Elaborate instructions to follow in the app. Maybe if you get used to the process you can ignore these.
• Glitchy U-locks. The instructions actually warn you that you need both hands to operate, may have to wait a while for the lock to recognize your phone, and might need to jiggle the lock around for it to work.
• Less hubs
• No gears — again, not that you really need any. This bike is like a couch on wheels anyway; you’re going nowhere fast.
• Can only rent one bike at a time
• $100 pre-authorization on your card and a higher fee for parking out of hub
• No hold option
Unless you are yearning for an obstacle course of glitches, the choice is pretty clear. Either way, you don’t have bike lanes, you’ll inevitably look like a tourist, and you’re getting nowhere fast on a smooshy cruiser. You will probably still beat traffic, though.
You might also save on parking, and there’s that whole health and environment thing again.
The takeaway: Holy Spokes. Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
Better UX, a sleeker paint job, and solar panels outweigh the slightly higher cost and guilt as you ride past the devoted, local, and loveable Affordabike shop.
Love Best of Charleston?
Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.