Bike share has become one of the most popular travel innovations of the past decade. In world-class cities and medium-sized towns, you can pay a small fee, pick up a bicycle in one place and return it to another location.
For decades, people have paid for bike rentals. But this often involved picking up a bike in a store that might not have been located in convenient, highly visited locations. Bike share racks usually can be found among the very busiest of tourist attractions.
In some cities, you'll need to join the service as a temporary member, then pay a separate fee. In other places, you'll pay a straight rental fee, remove the bike from its rack, and go.
Cities popular with budget travelers offer these options. Let's take a look at five places, with the idea that there are hundreds of these services all over the world.
Example one: In Chicago, you'll find a Divvy bike rack along Michigan Ave., next to Millennium Park. You can join the bike share club for $75/year, or you can purchase a 24-hour membership for $7 USD. Pick up your bike in one location, then return it anyplace Divvy has a rack. You can use a debit or credit card to pay.
Bike share bikes tend to be well-maintained and they'll either look alike or carry distinctive labeling. There are hundreds of cities around the world where you'll find these arrangements. Let's take a look at a few more of them.
In Washington, D.C., a program called Capital Bikeshare allows you to join the program for a day, three days, one month or one year. The one-day arrangement costs a modest $8, while the one-year membership is $85 USD. They offer more than 300 stations in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
Once you're a member, you pay in time increments. The first 30 minutes of any ride session is free, with fees accruing after that time. An example from the website: "For example, a 90-minute trip would cost you nothing for the first 30-minute period, $1.50 for the second 30 minutes, and $3.00 for the third - for a total of $4.50 for the whole trip.
As of April 2015, Capital Bikeshare had about 3,000 bikes and had recorded about 9 million trips.
Budget travelers visiting Paris will find a bike share operation called Vélib'. You can join at several annual membership levels, the cheapest of which starts at about €30. Visitors can purchase a one-day ticket for €1.70 and enjoy unlimited use the service for 24 hours. For €8, a weekly ticket gives unlimited access for seven consecutive days, with the first 30 minutes free of charge. Purchases can be made online using a credit or debit card.
Vélib' bills itself as the largest bike share service outside of China. The number of daily riders is approaching 100,000.
If you've practiced budget travel in Beijing, you know that bicycles often outnumber motor vehicles in some parts of the city. If you're looking for a way to blend in with city life in China, riding a bike is an excellent option.
But the largest bike share operation in China -- and the world -- is not in Beijing, but rather Hangzhou. Those bike sharing in Hangzhou choose from 65,000 bicycles. There are plans to grow still larger as traffic congestion grows. In fact, many bike share operations in China are connected with public transportation systems.
City Bike Vienna enables visitors to pedal around some of the most stunning urban landscape on the planet. Visitors to Vienna can find bike racks in 140 city locations, and many are in areas that tourists frequent. There are separate fees for registration and rentals, but both are modest and can be paid online in advance or with a debit/credit card at the station.
Once registered, your first hour is free. Prices increase from there according to how long you hold the bike. You'll be charged in full at the start of each new hour, so riders need to plan their returns accordingly. As in most European cities, Vienna offers excellent cycling options and well-marked lanes reserved for two-wheelers.