Dueling bike share programs took the stage Friday at Civic Center, as three different companies vied for Mayor Gavin Newsom’s attention at a bike technology showcase on a rainy afternoon.

Newsom touted his longtime support and excitement for such a program that would provide alternative transportation to residents and tourists alike. From a SFMTA press release, Mayor Newsom explained: “Bicycle sharing that works regionally as well as in San Francisco will provide greater connectivity and make our transit system more useful. As bicycling increases in San Francisco and the Bay Area, key projects like this will encourage others to add bicycling to their travel solutions.”

In October of this year, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) approved a $4.29 million grant that will greatly assist the $7 million price tag for making a Bay Area bicycle sharing program possible. Turning towards such cities as New York, Paris, London, Denver, and Washington DC who have existing bike share programs, the MTA agrees that is is definitely time for San Francisco to jump on board. Now it’s a matter of deciding which bicycle company will win the proposal and install 500 bicycles (to start) in San Francisco at the end of next year.

Perhaps not the perfect day to showcase solar powered bicycle kiosk, the B-cycle company was by far the most technologically advanced system at the showcase. B-cycle offers GPS systems as well as calorie counters, personal mapping software, and expensive Trek rental bikes (you can see a demo of their tech at the PP). But if this company secures the contract, users be forewarned: having one of these bikes get stolen on your watch will cost you in the range of $1000+ to replace. Which certainly would make one want to invest in a better lock-up system (when not near a station) than just the provided cable lock. At Friday’s event, Newsom also quipped that the “Big Brother” tracking system might be problematic to privacy concerns, but could provide significant information to understanding urban bike usage patterns and routes if kept anonymous.

Alta Bikeshare was also present, which currently serves Washington DC, Montreal, and Denver, among other major cities. Also utilizing off the grid technology, Alta has created a line of bicycles designed specifically for the bike sharing system. You won’t find any aggressive riding positions or fixies here, all the bicycles are comfortable, safe, and sturdy- like a cruiser with gears. So what happens if you try to return the bike but there are no empty bike docks? Typically, users can obtain an additional 15 minutes free of charge from the pay station, then hustle over to the next nearest station.

The only local company represented this weekend, Berkeley based BikeLink had an interesting approach to the bike share idea. Already familiar with integrating existing public transportation systems with bicycle parking lockers, BikeLink retrofits a wide range of bicycles with an information hub that also serves as the user’s kiosk. The info hub, or disk, is designed to work with a clipper card, BikeLink card, or could be activated using a smart phone. While the other two companies have specially constructed bicycle gates that are released when a user swipes a membership card, Bike Link’s bicycles actually have a locking mechanism that can be discretely mounted onto existing bike corrals. This would reduce installation costs and provides a solution without the need for kiosks or vending maintenance.

Eventually the city aims to install 3,000 bikes at strategic points through the city, “destroying Chicago and Denver in terms of bicycle programs,” Newsom commented on Friday. A more environmentally responsible cousin to car sharing, the program would be a membership or card-based system of short-term bicycle rental. It appears that the first 30 minutes of rental will most likely be free, with the cost of a full day rental comparable to taking public transportation (approximately $5). Users of course will have to agree to a liability release and provide their own lights and helmets.

Did you brave the gloomy weather to check out the showcase Friday or Saturday? Let us know who you think should be the grant winner.

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