All that is necessary for the survival of the fittest

is an interest in life, good, bad or peculiar--Grace Paley

Juliet Waters

Juliet Waters
Montreal, Canada
August 01
Montreal based writer, book critic, single mom. Currently working on a book about a year learning computer programming. Visit me, or


Editor’s Pick
MAY 13, 2009 4:14PM

A bicycle built for 3.5 million

Rate: 32 Flag


I think I can now safely brag that I live in the most transportation forward city in North America.  I've already blogged about Montreal's near monopoly on high speed train building, and my awesome car co-op.  Soon I'll write something about the newly announced plans to run airport shuttle buses and utility vehicles on hydrogen.  But today I'll follow the New York Times lead, and introduce you to our innovative new bike sharing program.

At the NYT pointed out today, this is the most ambitious program on the continent. The plan for now is to make 3,000 bikes available at 300  wi-fi operated, solar powered stations spread out around the central area of the city. 

Though the idea was spawned by a similar program in Paris, what makes Bixi, the Montreal version, different is that it's run by the city in co-ordination with the bus and metro system.  Bikes can be removed from one station and returned to any of the others.  Commit to a year's worth of bus/metro passes, and you get half off the $78 yearly subscription rate (you also get a discount to Communauto, Montreal's equally fab hi-tech car-co-op.)

Plus the bikes are kind of  cool. Not built for lightness, but constructed to defeat vandals and parts thieves (made with the same aluminum we build our famous trains with.)

One more reason for me to put off buying a car.  


 For  your viewing pleasure here's a little video about Bixi and biking in Montreal. 

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Not a bad idea... but what about the brtual winters in Montreal? I don't imagine anyone would be bicycling during those months.
Thanks BBE.

Icemilkcoffee. All these stands are portable. They'll be warehoused away in the the winter...although many Montrealers do actually ride in the winter (as an ex-courrier myself I braved a few months one year). But you need to be pretty devoted.
We saw these all over Paris! Honestly, though, the traffic was so crazy, that we didn't want to take the risk. Perhaps if we knew the city a little better. As it was, we stuck to the Metro, which is one of the man-made wonders of the world, as far as I'm concerned.

If a few of these sprung up around here, I certainly would take advantage of them.
Okay, well since you brought it up Jeanette, Bombardier (our train co.) just inked a deal two days ago to build 60 metro cars for use in Paris. Yup. we're building that wonder. You should see our metro system. It's pretty swank too.
Someday...we can only wish.
Sure - good idea for urban areas, but where do you put the golf clubs? : )
Up next, I'm sure...hydrogen powered golf carts (there's a course right near the airport.)
jk makes a good point. where i live, there are actually no sidewalks because the city wanted to maintain a bucolic sensibility. this is why i fell in the gutter last year walking back from the farmer's market. there are bike lanes, but to be honest, i don't trust california drivers enough to get a bike: every single person i know with a bike has been doored at least once, and my car has been hit 4 times. there is a bus line, but they don't run after 7 pm or on weekends. all our community transportation ideas are more like afterthoughts.

you've written about a great idea. i hope someday we can become a civilized country and start using it!
JK ...yes the drivers. I think this may be part of a plan to reduce them. Though it's worth noting, next to Portland Ore., we have the most bike paths of any city in N.A. So it's not that bad.
Very interesting! Great post.
Actually, I've never figured out the attraction of golf carts. I've been walking while I play golf for 30+ years (my little contribution toward saving the planet I guess) and it seems to me the epitome of laziness to use a cart, unless someone is physically disabled in such a way that they can't walk that far.
Love it! Very cool idea. Sending the link to my greenest of friends...
Brilliant! Almost makes me wish I lived in a city again so I could propose something similar. Almost.

Rated (for innovation)
But do they have fixies for rent...?

I dunno... I kinda love my bike a lot and can't imagine sharing, but if this works for other folks then it has my vote. Anything to cut our reliance on cars. I hate paying $400 to a mechanic for a break job, knowing I could do my own on my bike for a tenth of that.

I wish they'd stop marketing all these alt-transportation initiatives based on "Dependence on foreign oil" and start marketing them based on "Dependence on shady car mechanics that want to steal your money without actually doing any repair, or at least not enough to warrant the ridiculous amounts of cash you're forced to shell out" We'd be biking, training, busing and electric in 3 years if they did.
I love this idea and hope it works for you. We had something similar in Fresno, CA, but it was not run by the government but by Rotarians, and there were no dues to pay for use. I'm pretty sure they were eventually all stolen as I haven't seen one in years now. What is the plan for keeping them from being lost to thieves?
Re thieves. I know the bikes are fitted with computer chips. Probably gps. And they're designed in such a way that the parts are hard to steal.
More on thievery. Apparently you can't rent the bike without either a credit card, or a subscription (which gives you a "key"). So they have info on anyone who takes the bike and doesn't return it.
I guess this shows once you get started on the path toward green living/sharing transportation/cooperation, anything is possible. Hope this works and provides a model for large cities down here south of the border.

Thanks for sharing Juliet.
I'll believe it works when I see it. It bombed terribly in Paris.
Deborah. I had no idea you were so knowledgeable about Paris. I'd read there were problems with Vélib its first year, but certainly never heard it had "bombed terribly." Seems to be working pretty good according to the NYT

I love, love, love my car sharing company. So I don't see why the bikes wouldn't work.
The more I read from you, the more I love Canada. Visiting this summer, in fact! Very, very cool. And Behind Blue Eyes is correct, I think - giving buckets of money to failing banks and Haliburton good; spending money on bikes while we fight rampant obesity and help the environment - socialism. Which is a naughty word, apparently.
Montreal! La ville de grandeur !
Annette, I just updated the post with a video about biking in Montreal. Hope you make it up!
Just watched - awesome. Went to Whistler last summer, and I don't think I've ever seen my husband feel physically better and more peaceful. We rode bikes everywhere.
Oh you guys are showing off again. What did I tell you about that? You and your fancy bikes. 'Scuse me while I jump in my Humvee and drive next door.

(Did you know Montreal is one of my favorite cities? I've been there several times - but not in last 10 years. Film festivals, jazz festivals...even to stay in a little hostel there called Chez Jean. I think its such a fun, hip and good city with just the right amount of fancy. Thought about moving there but the citizenship thing was a bitch. Long parenthetical thought. Rock on.)
I have always wondered about the logistics of such sharing plans, be it bikes, small cars, scooters, or what have you. Does it result in a huge need for relocation? Does everyone take them from satelitte spots and ride them to central hubs, thereby requiring constant trucking back of bikes to the outlyers?

I imagine the logistics planning for that has to be pretty sophisticated.

Sounds like fun, which just goes to show how miserably dull my life is these days ...
Beth: I'm trying to stop. I know we're ruining it for everyone. Come back up soon! A lot has changed in 10 years. Okay not much. But we have these fancy new bikes now.

Gwool. I got that sly little jab at the end. Ha! As for logistics. With my car sharing I have to bring the car back to the parking lot that's about a block away from my house (from where I take it.) From what I understand with the bikes, you can bring them back to any of the computerized stands. They're free for the first half hour, the point of which is to get people to use them a lot, thus making sure they move around the stations. I'm really looking forward to seeing how well it works.
Sounds great, but what will you do on those cold winter days and nights?
Yeah, any city that can actually live in the 21st century is in uber-cool territory. When a friend up there (that I dream of visiting) told me about this, I looked into whether or not you could go station-to-station on the fly, and of course the Bixi website (in English and French), once plugged into a PDA, gives you maps w/all the stations. Verrrrrry cool.
This is wonderful news. I hope Toronto catches up soon. As someone who lives outside Toronto (100 km away), I often wish I had a bicycle available whenever I get into the city. Something like Bixi would make visits to the city so much more enjoyable.

A couple of people have commented on the "problem" of winter. I hope they keep the bikes available through the winter, and also outfit them with studded tires so they are safer. Cycling in winter is great! Sure beats shivering at a bus stop.
David, hope you make it up with Annette and Beth. We can go and picnic with our PDAs and Bixis.

Bart. T.O. plans to have something like this by 2010. As for winter. The plan for now is to warehouse them between November and May. Too much wear and tear on the bikes.
why are they using "penis killers" uprights.

took 5 years off a bike before my pain faded and normal function returned (mostly). now I only ride recumbent bikes and am much more comfortable.
It sounds like a wonderful idea, and I hope it's successful. The bicycle remains one of the most efficient means of transportation ever invented -- and it can be a helluva lot of fun, too, as well as great exercise.

I used to ride with the Florida Freewheelers and make regular 50-mile trips. But in the East Tenn mountains I can't even begin to count the ways bike-riding is dangerous. Not sure about the health benefits of something that can get you killed.
Very important information here, Juliet. Thank you!
Thanks Risa.

Uh, not sure what to say about the penis killers. But recumbent would be pretty hard to line up, I imagine.

Yes this wouldn't work too well in mountainous rural areas. Montreal is pretty hilly. But not too many steep hills. Biking here is a very good workout . These bikes, however, are mostly for use in the downtown core which is pretty flat. We have about 300 km of bike paths in and around the city, and more being built everyday. So bikers have a fair amount of refuge from traffic.
The more cyclists there are on the roads and streets, the safer it gets for all of them.
Another reason to add to the list for me to plan a side trip to Quebec on one of my visits to way-freakin-northern Vermont. Awesome!

As for recumbents: I think they're just fabulous for long distance road work, but they're not suitable for city riding conditions. In road conditions where you're jammed in tight amongst cars, visibility from and of recumbents is dangerously poor. You can't navigate high curbs, highly uneven pavement or other road obstacles on a recumbent - and again, that poor city visibility means that obstacles may creep up on you unexpectedly. Because of their long frame, they have a very wide turning radius which is unsuitable for crowded city streets. There is a whole new learning curve for them, because of balance issues around the low center of gravity, different starting and stopping maneuvers, and avoiding dangers like heel strike and leg suck. While I don't propose that those factors are more dangerous on average than the dangers associated with an upright frame, the fact is - very few casual cyclists have ever even seen a recumbent in real life, let alone ridden one. They would be far more party to these dangers because of inexperience than to the dangers common to uprights, which they've been riding their entire lives. And even experience can't make up for the poor visibility and maneuverability, which are critical on a city street.

I hear ya on the numb crotch (even girls get it.) But you know, I don't get that when I'm using my bike for a mile or three trip around town to get groceries or go to the library. (Especially when you consider how much time you spend out of the saddle so you don't drive your seat post into your crotch when hopping off a curb, or standing for better visibility as you approach an intersection.) I get it when I'm doing 30 mile trips on country roads. I think that upright frames are the better design for short stints around town.
PAD, I'm with you on that. These bikes, and the whole program, are really designed for short trips around the city. The cost (first half hour free, second hour 6 bucks) is meant to encourage short trips and discourage long distances, or people hogging the bikes. The name Bixi is a splice of bikes and taxis. What they want is to encourage people to develop the habit of taking bikes for short trips in and around the city instead of taxis and cars. Long distance biking requires a different kind of bike.

all your thoughts on recumbent issues are out of date. swb or short wheelbase recumbents (upright seating) are faster and more nimble than any upright. lwb or long wheelbase recumbents are less nimble but not by as much as you might think. the learning curve is under 5 min for anyone that has ridden a bike. as for visibility, that is another mostly-myth. a recumbent riders head comes roughly to the chest of a sitting upright rider. I've been on a 'bent for 10 years in a mix of environments and never had a problem being seen. on an upright was quite a different story. visibility for *all* bikes would be improves if front and back led flashers were mandated for all riders I had mine on a pole a foot above my head on my left side.

recumbents are a wonderful improvement on bike design, rider safety, rider comfort, and load carring ability. every time a cheap recumbent (bike-e) is marketed, it is a big hit with people that wouldn't normally ride a bike. But bike shops tend to push people away from recumbents to more traditional solutions. why? the same old myths you expressed here.

here is another take. most bikes are made in china. simple bent designs like the bike-e can be made locally for a reasonable cost. bents could build a local industry and the rent a bike service could act as a try-before-you-buy service. some people will not want to try anything new but some will and some will like it. it would be nice if people had an option to try.
Another reason for me to love Canadians. Wish something like that could happen here.
Fabulous! I wish the US was more bike-friendly!
I maintain that automobiles should be used as personal transportation appliances only by the elderly and the infirm. If you're young and strong, you should walk, use Metro -- or this wonderful new BIXI!
Juliet - Ran across this article today at CBC. Looks as if the Bixi bikes are disappearing:
There definitely seem to be some bugs. A lot of people are complaining that the computers aren't registering the bikes being returned. So the bikes might be there, just not in the system.

But even though Mtl. is one of the bike theft capitals of North America, I don't see theft being a major problem. These bikes are pretty clunky. Fine for a short trip, but no the kind of thing you'd want to own. I don't see who thieves would sell them to.

Paris had this problem too the first year. But it seems to have gotten better.