Bike sharing is becoming a big business in major cities across the country. Companies like Uber are placing thousands of bicycles on the streets, and folks are renting them to get around instead of taking cabs, buses, subways or their own vehicles.
Initially, the bikes were parked at stations around the cities and had to be picked up and dropped off at those locations. Now they have “dockless” bike sharing that lets people find bikes with their phones, use them and leave them anywhere
These high-powered companies that have bicycles strewn across our municipal landscapes take pride in what they think is a creative new concept. They don’t realize that dockless bike sharing was a part of the culture when I was growing up in the 1950s.
All of us kids in the Pinehill subdivision on the outskirts of Springhill had bicycles, and our friends and neighbors used them all the time. If one of our bikes had a broken chain or a flat tire, we knew we could borrow somebody else’s bicycle without permission.
I’m not sure bicycle locks had been invented in those days. We left our bikes propped against trees or just lying in the front yard. If they went missing, we knew somebody had borrowed them and would bring them back before dark.
These dockless bike sharing companies now use cell phone GPS systems. Folks can find bikes on their phones, contact the company, lock and unlock them with special phone codes, pay for them on the internet and leave them any place that suits them.
That system is not nearly as efficient as the one we used in Pinehill. There were just three streets in the subdivision, and we knew everybody living there who had a bike, the condition of the bicycles and the attitudes of the people who owned them.
We could locate a bike that was not being used simply by walking down the street. I have used my cell phone GPS trying to find things in big cities and have been sent to hardware stores or cement mixing businesses when I was looking for a restaurant.
Word is getting out that some of the bicycles in these new bikes sharing businesses are junky and might fall apart before you get where you’re going. We knew in Pinehill which bikes to avoid because of rusty chains, bad brakes and slick tires.
There were also a few nasty, stingy guys in the neighborhood who didn’t like for people to borrow their bicycles. So, we never took their bikes unless we knew we could outrun them.
Not many girls in that neighborhood rode bikes back then, and guys certainly didn’t borrow the few that were around. Riding a girl’s bike would bring boys a heap of ridicule. I rode my cousin Ann’s bike one day just to try it out and was kicked out of our club that played on the tire swing at the minnow ditch.
We just had one car, and my dad took it to work most days. My mother would send me to Barrett’s Store a mile or so away on my bike, and I would have to put a wire basket on the handlebars to carry the groceries.
Tough guys in Pinehill frowned on bicycle baskets and threatened to ban me from neighborhood baseball games if I kept riding a bike with a basket on it. Bicycle handlebars were made to carry other kids, not baskets.
Some of the bike sharing companies are using electric bicycles. They cost more to rent. We didn’t have electric bikes in Pinehill, but we clipped playing cards to the wheels with clothes pins, and it sounded a little like a motor when the spokes hit them.
Bike sharing businesses are complaining that their bicycles get damaged a lot. I understand their frustration. We had gravel roads, and our bikes continually crashed in the dirt and rocks. They got beat up, and parts flew off.
We needed some of those off-pavement mountain bikes like they make these days. We didn’t have mountains, but all of our bikes were off-pavement. There was no pavement.
I lost the seat on my bike in a wreck once and had to ride standing up after that. It’s scary standing up and jumping on and off a bicycle when there’s a pipe sticking up where the seat used to be.
They eventually blacktopped our roads, and some parents bought their kids those shiny Western Flyer bicycles to ride on the new asphalt. I still had the cheap bikes from Sears.
That was good in a way, because the Western Flyers were the first to be borrowed in our bike sharing program. My old bikes usually stayed in the yard after we got the blacktop roads.