As someone who has been on the receiving end of an electric scooter gone rogue, I was wary of the possibility of a similar experience on an electric bike. However, I found myself unscathed after an afternoon of riding a BCycle bike around State Street, and my opinion of eco-friendly wheeled transportation was redeemed.
After downloading the BCycle app and outsourcing a helmet, I set off with my housemate, Casey. Having used the app to locate available bikes and map out a route beforehand, we planned to start near Stearns Wharf and head up State Street.
Barely out of the Hotel Californian parking lot, I saw three riders buzz by. Recognizing the white paint of a BCycle bike, I took it as a good omen. Unfortunately, those bikes turned out to be the exact ones Casey and I were in pursuit of.
Not to worry, I told myself, as I refreshed the app. It showed three more bikes outside of Yogurtland. Back in the car, Casey and I rerouted to Cota Street, less chatty and with a newfound focus. Arriving at the promised dock, I took a moment to size up my new ride.
Equipped with handlebar brakes, adjustable seats, and a small monitor to activate the electric assist, the bike’s user-friendly appearance immediately put me at ease. It also came with a basket, the perfect size for shopping bags or boxed leftovers.
After unlocking two bikes, we were off. Slightly wobbly, and silently hoping the occupants of State Street on the sunny Friday afternoon would include no familiar faces as I got my bearings, I embarked with more caution than speed.
“There are gears,” Casey shouted back, already comfortably ahead of me. Twisting the gear shift, I caught up to Casey with two clicks and a boost from the motor. Breezing down State Street, I felt like a quintessential Santa Barbaran as I passed other bikers and smiled at those also on BCycles.
After a little while, Casey and I felt confident enough to leave the safe confines of State Street for the car traffic of Chapala Street. Outliers among sedans and SUVs, we were easily identifiable thanks to the bike’s bright-white paint.
After a few minutes, we went back to the shops and restaurants of State Street while deciding where to stop for lunch. Since we both used a single ride pass, the bike would lock as soon as we docked it, regardless of whether there was time remaining.
Originally planning to park the bikes with the kickstand, we realized this was not advised by BCyle, lest the bike be scooped up while unattended. But this didn’t hinder our afternoon in the slightest, especially since there were bike docks on almost every block.
After eating lunch, we got a second pass to ride around before heading back to our car. Approaching the Cota Street dock, I was sad to part ways with my trusty bike, a welcome source of activity and community interaction amid the constrictions of the pandemic.
As we were docking our bikes, a couple was also returning theirs. Weekenders from San Francisco, the pair was all smiles. “I’m a klutz, but that was easy to ride,” the woman said, relieved that her boyfriend suggested the alternative to walking the entirety of State.
And as I drove back home amid the stop-and-go traffic of Isla Vista, I found myself wishing I were back on my BCycle bike, missing the agility and freedom of its transit.
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