I always thought the idea of a bike share program was a great idea. Easy and affordable access for people to bike instead of taking the subway or walk. I never thought it was for me though. For the past year, I have been biking to work almost every day on my tried and true Surly Long Haul Trucker. Even on freezing cold February mornings you will find me braving the cold to bike to work. Usually, the only thing that will keep me off the road is water, snow or ice on the road. After spending so much money on my dream Surly, I thought it would be a waste of money, and diminish my riding experience to use the hunky and touristic Toronto Bikeshare bikes.

However, there is a cost to riding your own bike all the time, particularly in the winter. After two years of using my Long Haul Trucker as my primary mode of transportation in Kingston, the maintenance bill to bring my bike back up to par was over $300 (new tires, new chain, new brake pads, new brake cables and a new crank).

After 12 months of riding in Toronto, I figured I would be able to go one more winter before any major updates were required. As winter approached, I began to feel bad about exposing my good bike to such poor conditions. As well my job changed in that I was less often working in our main office downtown (where I have a bike locker), and frequently working in other locations downtown. This would require me to leave my bike locked outside all day, exposing it to the elements and possible theft. I began to think Toronto Bikeshare may be a good idea for me after all…

I decided to finally bite the bullet after I learned from a friend that with a presto card the annual membership price was only $45/year (normal price without presto card is $90/year). It couldn’t hurt to try!

After signing up online, I was notified I would receive my key in the mail soon (~7 days), but in the meantime, I could use the Transit App to unlock bikes throughout the city. I downloaded the app and planned to try bikeshare for the first time tomorrow morning.

The next morning was disappointing. I logged into the app, but for some reason, it did not recognize that I had purchased the annual membership. After trying for several minutes I resigned and took my Surly to work. Later in the afternoon, I checked the app again, and this time it was ready to work. I am not sure why, but for some reason, it took about 16 hours after I purchased the membership for the app to allow me to take out a bike.

The next day I was ready to go! While heading out the door I opened the app which automatically finds the bike station closest to you, and requested a ride code. A 5 digit temporary key popped up on my screen, and within a minute I was at the docking station and picking out my first ride.

Since then, I have been using Bikeshare almost every single day! It has been around 6 months since I purchased my membership, and here are my initial thoughts.

Pros

  • Cost With Presto card the cost is only $45/year. As well, I will save on maintenance costs on my own bike by primarily using bikeshare in the winter.
  • Location – In the downtown core you are never far away from a bike station. When walking alone I often find myself grabbing a bike instead of walking since it is there. See the map of locations here.
  • Flexibility Before Bikeshare Toronto I would check the weather forecast to make sure if I rode in the morning, that I would be able to ride back in the evening without snow or rain. Now with my membership, if it is nice outside in the morning I’m on my bike. If the weather turns in the afternoon I can just subway home without worrying about leaving my bike out overnight.
  • Durability – This is almost a pro and a con. While the bikes are very heavy, they do feel very durable and well built. I am never concerned that the bike may break while I am riding, and I imagine they will last for many years despite frequent use in bad conditions.
  • Maintenance – The bikes typically seem to be kept in good condition. The tires are always well inflated, the steering bar aligned, and the gears working well enough. About once every two weeks I get a “dud” bike, where the breaks don’t work very well, or the gears are jumpy. But considering the size of the fleet they are maintaining, it seems like they are doing a good job. You can also report a faulty bike by pressing the repair button on the docking station when you return in.
  • App – Your Toronto Bike Share membership comes with a credit card like “key” that allows you to unlock any bike. You also have the option to download the Transit App which allows you to locate docking stations, see how many bikes and/or docks are available, and to take out a bike as well with a temporary 5 digit code. The app is very convenient in the event that you forget your key, or if your phone is more accessible. Note the app took about 24 hours to work for me. When I first signed up it did not recognize my membership.

Cons

  • Riding up hill – The bikes are heavy… Compared to my Surly Long Haul Trucker (which is not really a light bike itself), the bikeshare bike feels like you are pulling a trailer behind you. Luckily my ride to work in the morning is all downhill. The bike travels well downhill and it takes little effort to get to work. The ride home though is all uphill, and it takes a significant additional amount of energy to get home on the bikeshare vs. the long haul trucker.

Other factors to consider

  • Usage Fee – Upon first glance, the usage fee is somewhat confusing. With any of the membership options, you are allowed to ride the bike for 30 minutes. After the bike has been undocked for more than 30 minutes, additional fees apply (after 90 minutes the fee is $7 / 30 min. While this fee may seem steep at first, it does make sense. The fee keeps people from “hogging” bikes by keeping them out longer than necessary. Since I have started using the service I have never gone over the 30-minute mark. Most rides within the downtown core don’t take more than 30 minutes, and if they do you can simply dock the bike, and immediately take it out again for another 30 minutes.

Conclusion

Toronto Bike Share has changed the way I interact with the city and move about. The price is fair in my opinion, the bikes are maintained well, and in the downtown core, there is an abundance of stations. For only $90 a year (or $45 with Presto) I think most people will easily get value out of this service. Give it a try, and see you on the roads!

Tips, Tricks, and Resources

More Pictures

This review is independent, and not in any way paid for or promoted by Bike Share Toronto or any other group.