Hubway Bicycles: Urban Transportation Miracle or the Devil’s Plaything?

Recently I had my first opportunity to test out the new Hubway bicycle rental system and answer the question that’s been on everybody’s mind: are these bikes an urban transportation miracle or the devil’s playthings?

For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about, bicycles are wheeled transportation devices that are manually powered by pedaling and some kind of kooky system involving chains and gears. Hubway is the name of the fancy bicycle rental stations that mysteriously appeared throughout Boston some time after the pay toilet kiosks and some time before the food trucks.

(By comparison, the good news is that they’re not used as hobo heroin dispensaries like the pay toilets. The bad news is that they don’t serve delicious Redbones ribs like the food trucks.)

Actually, I tried to rent a bicycle a few weeks ago but couldn’t get the kiosk to accept my credit card. You might scoff, but my platinum Discovery card saves me 3% on all Sears portraits and I’m going to keep using it wherever and whenever I can.

After so many days of rain I thought that it would be nice to bypass the orange line and bike from North Station to Back Bay, where I knew there was a drop-off station near my office.

The rental process was fairly simple: swipe your credit card, enter your phone number and zip code, pick either 24 hour or 3 day rental, quickly read and approve the 176 page agreement, and print out a rental code. The bike easily unlocked and I was on my way.

My first revelation was that the ride from Causeway Street to Huntington Avenue is almost entirely uphill. My second realization was that chubby, out-of-shape guys biking up Beacon Hill are excellent candidates for having a heart attack, or at a minimum, breaking the sweat shield before work.

Although the ride was quite trafficky, I almost died only once. Now in fairness to the guy that nearly hit me I might have been running a slightly red light. Then again, he was also running the same light and I went for it first. Then again, he was in a car. Then again, if I yield in that situation I’d never get my right-of-way powers back again.

Riding the bike was not the big time saver I’d hoped for. It turns out that there are a ton of lights between North Station and Back Bay and you can only run so many of them. The ride took about the same time as walking and more time than the orange line, plus I couldn’t play iPhone backgammon (which is okay because the computer is a total cheater, constantly rolling doubles).

On the way home I picked up another bike near the Christian Science Center and found out (after unsuccessfully entering my code 17 times) that you need to get a new code even if you’re within the 24 hour window. Sure, it said that on the kiosk, but my plan was to rent a bicycle, not read a lot of stupid words.

The little basket on the bike is generously sized but not large enough to hold the 180 gram vinyl copy of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” that I bought at Newbury Comics during lunch. Obviously my record purchase has nothing to do with the bicycles, but I wanted to make sure that you knew that I won the hipster douchebag badge for the day by both renting an urban bike AND buying a classic LP.

The ride back was more of the same: traffic, lights, sweat and the realization that I would miss my train. When I arrived at North Station all of the drop-off racks were full and I was stuck with a bike that I couldn’t get rid of. Luckily, 2 other guys were in the same predicament and we made a great team: they were up for reading about what to do in such a situation (answer: find another kiosk with empty racks, duh) and I knew where Staniford Street was located.

Bike returned, crisis averted, second train made, and the metal taste in mouth and tingly arm sensation eventually dissipated.

The bikes are quite nice, with fat tires and 3 gears. They’re girl frame bikes which obviously made me feel slightly sexier. It cost me about $6.70 ($5 for the bike, $1.70 for the water at North Station) and I didn’t save any time.

Bottom line: the bikes are pretty cool but you’ll get sweaty on the way to work and you might miss your train on the way home due to the empty rack issue.

One thumb up for Hubway bike rentals.

Two thumbs up for Redbones ribs.

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