Santa Monica’s new city bike share program, the first in L.A. County, makes it easy to travel spontaneously on two wheels

By Bonnie Eslinger

Breeze bikes can be unlocked with a cell phone app at 75 hubs in Santa Monica, including this one at Pico Boulevard and 17th Street Photo by Bonnie Eslinger

Breeze bikes can be unlocked with a cell phone app at 75 hubs in Santa Monica, including this one at Pico Boulevard and 17th Street
Photo by Bonnie Eslinger

Who wouldn’t want all the joys of riding a bike without any of the hassles of owning one?

I love getting my pedal on, but I was ready to give up on owning a bike in Santa Monica after my last two-wheel ride was stolen from its locked-up location. When I heard the city was rolling out bike sharing, I knew my problem had been solved since I’d already given such a program a spin two years ago while vacationing in Toronto.

What is bike share? It’s a pay-as-you-ride network of rentable bikes waiting for riders in clusters at outdoor racks installed throughout the city. Think of it as wheels when you need them if you’re wrapping up some shopping on the Third Street Promenade and want to have lunch on Main Street without the bother of driving and parking. Just grab a bike at one location and ride it to the next.

Santa Monica’s Breeze bike share program officially launched last Thursday. Signing up online and then downloading the mobile phone app was easy and took less than 10 minutes. A credit card is needed to join, and ride minutes can be purchased at a pay-as-you-go rate of $6 per hour or through memberships that start at $20 per month or $119 per year, which both include 30 minutes of daily free riding time ($6 per hour thereafter). It’s worth noting that Santa Monica is offering a $99 “founding member” plan until Dec. 31 that includes 60 minutes of free daily riding time.

The Breeze network includes 500 bicycles at 75 hubs in Santa Monica — from San Vicente Boulevard to Marine Street north-south; from 34th Street to the Promenade east-west — and four hubs in Venice.

I found two hubs within four blocks of my mid-city apartment and could see online that bikes were available at both locations. I reserved a bike using the phone app and walked over to pick it up. Ride sessions can also be initiated onsite.

The bikes are bright green multi-speed cruisers, each with a front basket and u-lock, but no bike helmet. They are easily released from their moorings via a keypad on the back of the cruiser that requests your account number.

I unlocked my cruiser, adjusted the seat height and took off riding to my first destination, Virginia Park. I locked the bike up to the hub at that location and picked up some books and CDS at the library.

You can lock up a bike at any of the city’s hubs. If you want to make sure it’s there when you get back, there’s a “HOLD” button by the bike’s keypad to keep it on the clock. Or you can save money by taking your chances and leaving the bike at the rack without a hold, ostensibly leaving it open for the next person, but likely waiting until your return.

With another rack just six blocks away at Pico Boulevard and 17th Street, I figured the savings was worth the risk and didn’t place a hold on my bike.

My green chariot was waiting when I got back. I pedaled to the beach and took a ride along the promenade, locking the bike up to a standard rack at one point in order to detour for a dip in the ocean.

After each ride, the bike keypad provided an accounting of how many miles I rode, the minutes used and the total fare. It was a sunny day, making it hard to read the screen, but the information also popped up on my phone through the program app.

The bikes don’t need to be returned to their starting location, so users can travel where they like within the city and end the ride when they’ve reached their destination. And as I know from my experience in Toronto, bike sharing is also an easy way for visitors to sightsee without a car.

Other cities with bike share programs include Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Miami, Nashville, New York, San Francisco and Washington DC, so when you think about, Santa Monica was long overdue. Los Angeles, your move.

As I pedaled to my starting point, I saw a couple on Breeze bikes on the other side of the street. I rang my bell and waved, and they returned the gesture.

Live free, ride easy.