It’s been a long time coming. Old Man Winter gave Mother Nature a run for her money this year and made sure it was way too cold for way too long in Charlotte. But spring is here, and that means we all want to be outside as much as possible — we have lots of rainy weekends to make up for! Sure, brunching on a patio is one way to guarantee you’re soaking up the sun, but what better way to get out and explore Charlotte on a nice day than on two wheels? (You can also work off a bit of that brunch!) Charlotte is part of a pilot program that’s made it easier than ever to hop on a bike and go for a quick ride – in fact, you don’t even have to own a bike to ride one.

It’s called bike sharing. You may have seen evidence of it around town and not realized exactly what was going on. You know those bright green and orange bikes that seem to be parked at random locations? That’s what we’re talking about. Last year, the Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) started the pilot program, encouraging several bike share companies to come to town. The idea is to help the Queen City become a more bike-friendly city. Between all the different companies, there are more than 2,000 bikes up for grabs — mostly in the Southend, Dilworth and Uptown areas.

Grab a bike, and travel around Charlotte on two wheels. Image: LimeBike

Shannon Binns, the Executive Director of Sustain Charlotte says, “It’s fantastic! We’re such an auto-oriented city, and this is giving the people of Charlotte another option — and an easy option.”

Ofo Bike is the world’s first and largest dockless bike share operator. They’re in 25 cities across the country – including Charlotte. Taylor Bennett is the head of communications and says, “We’ve already seen an incredible response from residents and visitors in Charlotte. As the weather begins to get warmer, we are already seeing new peaks in the number of rides per day, and we expect those numbers will continue to increase as we get into the spring and summer.”

How Does It Work?

Dockless bikes allow users to rent a bike from virtually anywhere in the city and park it at the end of your ride, wherever you want. It’s all run through an app you download on to your phone. Once you download the app, you see a map of where all the bikes are located. The app allows you to “unlock” the bike (usually using a QR code on the bike) once you’ve paid a rental fee. The rental fee varies by company but can be as low as $1 an hour, and you can usually ride as long as you want. Dockless bikes are different from the B-Cycle model that’s been in Charlotte for a few years now. With those bikes, they are locked and have to be picked up and dropped off at certain locations around town, usually along the greenway.

The bike companies all say they love being in the Queen City and hope to stay here long after the city’s pilot program wraps. Spin is another of the dockless bike groups that’s here, and the Charlotte City Manager for Spin, Buzz Morley, says, “Charlotte is one of America’s fastest growing cities, and we’re excited to work with the city’s forward-thinking leaders to enhance Charlotte’s unique cityscape. The city is laid out very well for bike transportation and has a population that is incredibly open and willing to try out new ways of getting around town.”

Some bikes are as inexpensive as $1 per hour!

On a recent sunny weekend, Taylor Kenan and a friend rented bikes to go from Southend to Plaza Midwood. She says, “I think the bike share programs are awesome. It was a really nice day outside, and we had to get home but it was too far to walk and we didn’t want to Uber, so biking was perfect and there were tons of the shared bikes around us. It was very convenient. I would definitely use it again if I find myself in a situation where the weather is nice, my destination is too far to walk to, and I can find a bike nearby.”

A lot of people seem to be loving the idea. Since launching in November, Charlotteans have taken more than 40,000 trips using dockless bikes. In January, the average dockless bike user took up to three trips and stayed on the bike for about a mile. And that was in January! Imagine what we’ll see now that the sun is out!

Erin, a senior at Davidson College, says, “Mobike saves me time and money when I need to run errands between classes. Instead of getting my car or finding a friend to take me, I can just jump on a nearby Mobike.”

Shannon adds, “What’s nice about these dockless bikes is that they’re not limited to a certain part of town, and I think this pilot program has turned Charlotte into more of a bike city.”

Shannon’s organization, Sustain Charlotte, will host Biketoberfest again this October for the third time, and he expects to have a bigger crowd than ever thanks to the dockless bikes.

“It’s fantastic. These bikes have been a huge hit already, and it was a cold winter. I can’t wait to see how many people are on bikes by summer!”

To learn more about Charlotte’s bike program, visit sustaincharlotte.org/bicycle. Happy biking!

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