Ride Share

M ay is New Haven Bike Month, so, naturally, I decided to go for a ride. But not just any ride. I wanted to check out the spiffy green bikes in the city’s new bike share program, officially dubbed Bike New Haven. I called my friend Carol Nardini, an avid cyclist and a member of the mayor’s Taskforce on Bike Education, and asked her to come along.

We met at a BNH station on Orange Street at Pearl. The temperature was in the 70s, the trees were in bloom and patrons of nearby Cafe Romeo sat at the outdoor tables enjoying a mid-morning snack. Several cycles were locked to the sidewalk rack and instructions were posted, though we had both already downloaded the app and read through the helpful how-tos.

The ultimate plan calls for 300 bikes at 30 stations citywide, but for now 17 are open. The app tells you how many bikes are docked at each, a convenient feature for planning a trip—to a park, or the grocery store, or, in our case, other BNH stations.

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We started out down Orange Street, navigating around potholes and acclimating to our mode of transport. The bikes are heavy, “like armored vehicles,” Carol noted, with upright handlebars that felt a little bit twitchy at first for someone used to a lower-profile ride. But after a few blocks, I got the hang of it. Thick tires make for relatively safe, smooth sailing, and the bike has three speeds, shifted from the right handle grip. After trying them out, I stayed in second gear for our flat city ride.

At Audubon Street, we found three more bikes waiting on the corner. Then we made our way over to Whitney, turned left on Trumbull and passed through the Yale campus to the Farmington Canal bike path. Just behind the fence at Scantlebury Park, three more bikes were docked and waiting for riders.

The ride up the bike path was easy and pleasant, through Science Park into Newhallville. Carol rides this end of the trail frequently and said she wishes more people would try it out. We passed nearly a dozen people walking or riding, and she called out a cheerful hello to everyone. Most returned the favor.

Passing five more bikes at the intersection of Henry and Munson Streets, we rode on up to Lincoln-Bassett School Park. Carol had just volunteered there for a Newhallville Block Party co-organized by New Haven Bike Month, fitting kids with new bike helmets. There are still plenty of bike-boosting events coming up on the New Haven Bike Month calendar.

At Lincoln-Bassett, the northernmost station, we found another five bikes docked and waiting. Then we turned around to pedal south again, and Carol told me the story of the first time she rode a bike, at the age of seven or eight. A neighbor, Mrs. Smith, taught all of the kids at the end of her West Haven street to ride, running alongside them with a stabilizing hand on the back of the seat. Carol said she remembers it as clearly as the day it happened: “I was riding, and she was there… I turned around and she was waving to me, and I was off… Just took to it like a duck to water.” Her first bike, a hand-me-down from a neighbor, was too big, so “I just pumped the pedals. I couldn’t sit and pedal until I grew into the bike.” Later she biked to the beach, to high school, to her graduate school field placements. She’d still rather bike than drive today.

Back at Canal Street, we turned and headed down Prospect. Then, thinking we’d find another station, we hung a right on Grove Street. I realized immediately that we were headed for perhaps the worst biking intersection in New Haven, but fearless Carol called out, “We’ll be okay!” And we were, navigating a left turn through the Broadway-Whalley-Goffe-Dixwell intersection and heading toward downtown.

Despite taking that risky route, Carol is a role model for safe biking: she wears a helmet, she signals every turn and stop, she knows the bike laws and follows them. For example, she told me, only kids 12 and under are allowed to bike on the sidewalk in New Haven. On its website, Elm City Cycling, a local biking advocacy group, offers the following “Street Smart Tips” for cyclists: “be predictable when riding in traffic; wear a helmet; lock your bicycle; be visible, wear reflective clothing; record your bicycle serial number.”

We found the last station on our route at Grove and Church Streets, where 10 bikes awaited riders. Here they were docked two to a rack, and we realized you can drop off your bike at any station; even if it’s full, you can “[lock] the bike to itself,” as the Bike New Haven website points out. Built-in locks loop through the back wheel, making it impossible to spin.

By the time we returned our two cycles to Orange and Pearl, we’d been out for about an hour and a half. The charge for each was $3.99. The Bike New Haven website lists the cost of rides as $1.75 for a single 45-minute trip ($2 for each additional block of 45 minutes), $8 daily, $20 monthly and $90 annually. Discounts (email [email protected]) are available for low-income and senior riders.

At the end of our adventure, Carol and I sat down for a cold drink and came up with our tips for other riders:

• Download the Bike New Haven app in advance and enter your credit card information so you’re ready to go.

• Check out the map of stations in advance to be sure a bike is available at your starting point. (We didn’t see any empty stations on our ride, and a quick check of the app on a different morning showed bikes available at every station.)

• Be aware that if you’re with a group, everyone will need the app. Our one frustration was that we couldn’t find a way to rent more than one bike per phone.

• Re-locking the bike for the first time is tricky. You have to manually slide a tab into place. The app offers a good graphic, so take your time and follow the instructions.

• The website says you can “pause your ride to make a quick stop and your bike will be reserved!” We didn’t try this, but it’s a great feature. You could ride where you’re going, lock up briefly and be assured that the bike will wait for you. Note, however, that you’ll pay for the time you’re off the bike.

Then it was time to head home. I said goodbye to Carol and walked back to my car, helmet in hand. I hated to get behind the steering wheel again. It sure was a beautiful day for a ride.

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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