I LOVED pretty much everything about Montreal cycling – but the thing I loved the most was the Bixi Bike Share system. Bixi is short for “bike taxi,” and that’s pretty much what they are. During the whole time we were in Montreal, we never once had to take a cab. Bixi was the way to go. Bixi bikes are sturdy and weather resistant. Some come with 3 gears, some with 6. Now when we plan vacations, we look for cities that have bike share systems and safe cycling lanes.
Note: This is part of a series about Montreal cycling:
There was a Bixi Bike Share station close to our hotel in Old Montreal, so we could pick up Bixis and bike to a restaurant for dinner. After finding a restaurant, we simply returned them to a nearby Bixi station (and there always was one). After dinner, we would pick up another couple of Bixis to get back to the hotel. I’m pretty sure the constant cycling is the reason we never put on any weight on this trip, even though we devoured the famous Montreal cuisine with complete abandon (one of my cardinal Rules of Life is NEVER diet on vacation). Another plus was that the cost was negligible – around $5 per day.
How the Bixi Bike Share System in Montreal Works
This bike share system is really simple – all you need is a credit card. You insert the card into the machine at a docking station, and then follow the steps. So you can just grab a Bixi bike share bike and then cycle along the Lachine Canal!
Five bucks gets you 24-hour usage, providing you never keep the bike for longer than 30 minutes at a time. If you keep it longer than 30 minutes, you pay $1.50 for the next 30 minutes, $3.00 for the next, and then $6.00 per hour for each hour thereafter. So the system lends itself to doing shortish trips, docking the bike, shopping, eating or sight-seeing, and then picking up a new bike. By the way, the system also puts a $250 hold on your credit card, in case you don’t return the bike.
Locals can get an even better deal by getting a subscription for an entire year for just $78 (or $28 per month). Surveys have shown that half of the locals using Bixis use them to commute to school or work. That was borne out by what we saw: workers dashing out of Metro stations, throwing their briefcases or handbags into the front basket of a Bixi, and peddling off into the sunset.
When you’re done with your Bixi, simply return it to the nearest docking station. You need to push it in quite firmly, and the system will lock it down. If you can’t find an empty Bixi station, let the system know that you tried by inserting your credit card, and you get another 15 minutes to find an empty booth. In practice, we only once had a problem, and on that occasion we waited for all of two minutes for people to come and take out a couple of Bixis, freeing up docking stations for us.
Bike Share Programs are Catching on all Over
Bixis are not just part of the Montreal cycling scene. They are now also in Melbourne, Australia (you can read here about why that one is not doing well); Minneapolis; London; Paris; and New York. Vancouver finally got its own bike share system in 2016 – you can read about Vancouver’s Mobi Bike Share Program here.
Word is that the only place where bike share systems are failing to have phenomenal success is Melbourne, because it’s sticking stubbornly to its helmet requirement. This removes the possibility of spontaneous use of bike share program bikes. In Montreal, by contrast, with its non-existent helmet laws, total number of rides on Bixis for the 2010 summer season was two million – up from one million last year.
Bixi Bike Share and the Cycling Helmet Issue
That darn helmet issue just keeps rearing its ugly head. As Montreal has no helmet laws, I experienced helmet-less riding for the first time in my life there. Fun! More to the point, I must say I felt safer in Montreal Montreal cycling without a helmet than I feel in Vancouver with a helmet. Why? Because Montreal is graced with an elegant, intelligent system of city-wide separated bikes lanes, so that you don’t have to ride six inches away from hurtling buses and cars. (More about that in this post.)
The thing about helmets is that most people think we have to wear them in cities like Vancouver because we lack the necessary infrastructure to keep cyclists safe. However, I don’t think that Vancouver’s bike share plan will possibly succeed if they don’t get an exemption from the bike helmet law. Read the latest about plans for a bike share program in Vancouver here.
Related: How Bike Share has Failed in Brisbane because of the bike helmet law (and tourist unfriendliness)
It’s like not providing any sidewalks for pedestrians to walk safely, and then passing a law to force them to wear helmets to protect their brains when, inevitably, they are struck by cars.
Although at least Vancouver is working on safer cycling routes. Vancouver now has a (very basic) network of separated cycling routes. And the city is planning to introduce its own Bixi system. So when the Bixi system arrives, I hope the city amends the laws to allow Bixi users to ride without helmets. This way, the program will succeed.
You can bet we’re going to go back to do come more Montreal cycling – where else can you use a $5 bike to access sightseeing like this?
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