The life of a cycle


The convenience and security of the Dublin Bikes scheme are the main reasons why it’s hit the ground running

AT THE WEEKEND, the one millionth journey was made on a Dublin Bikes bike, the cycle scheme that launched in the capital almost exactly a year ago. For a city unfortunately used to serial bike theft (including this reporter – two bikes stolen to date), the predictions before the scheme launched were far more negative than positive. Who’d use the bikes? Wouldn’t lots of them be stolen? Or vandalised? End up in the Liffey?

One month after the scheme launched, I applied for a long-term hire Dublin Bikes card, which cost €10 a year. The natty dark green plastic card arrived within days, with “dublinbikes” printed on the front, and my name printed on the back. It made me feel like an honorary citizen of Dublin, even though I’m only an interloper from Clare.

The card sat unused in my wallet for three months, despite the fact there is a bike stand outside The Irish Timesoffices on Townsend Street, and I no longer own a bike, due to being fed up of having said bikes stolen. By the time I finally found myself one evening holding up my card to the machine at the bike stand outside the office, I had forgotten my pin number.

When I eventually foraged deep within my memory and hauled out those four numbers, my little green card instantly became a much-used Open Sesame to the city. I’ve been reintroduced to the special adventure that is navigating your way from A to B on a bike in Dublin while simultaneously staying alive in a city where there is a mysterious paucity of cycle lanes, and an alarming number of bonkers drivers.

Since then, Dublin Bikes has taken me on many, many journeys around the city. Running late to interview an Oscar-winning Hollywood actress when no taxis were in view, a solitary remaining bike at the Charlemont stand got me to Merrion Square in under four minutes, leaving enough time to make it appear as if I’d been in residence on the Merrion foyer sofa twiddling with my hair for at least a decade.

My most memorable journey to date was biking one lunchtime in May to the Greek Street stand near the solicitors’ office where I hand-delivered the final signed contracts for my new home. There are scores of other journeys, but like many people who regularly use Dublin Bikes, my most frequent route is to and from work, so “my” stands are Portobello Harbour, Charlemont Place, and Townsend Street.

On Monday afternoon, I lurked alongside the Chatham Street bike stand to observe the usage there. It was raining, so my unscientific reason for choosing this particular stand was that it faces a coffee shop with an awning, under which I could stand while waiting.

Shortly after 4pm, the 20-capacity bike stand had three empty spaces. I waited. And waited. Nobody came or went. I walked up to Grafton Street, and returned. In the space of roughly three minutes, while my back had been turned, some five more bikes had vanished, as if spirited away by fairies. A man dressed as a waiter shot his bike into a slot like an arrow and was sprinting off towards Grafton Street before I had hardly registered his arrival.

THE NEXT PERSON to arrive at the stand was Fergus McCarthy, on his way home to Lower Mount Street from shopping in town. “I’m surprised at how successful the scheme has been,” he admitted. “The only frustrating thing is trying to find an empty place to return the bikes to.”

A minute later, Brendan Ward, who uses the bikes “nearly every day”, and has had a card since the scheme launched, was removing a bike to cycle to Leeson Street. “I thought after a few weeks, all the bikes would be vandalised,” he said, sounding amazed. Ward has his own bike, but chooses to use Dublin Bikes when going into the city centre. “With your own bike, you have to bring big heavy locks with you,” he explains. “The only complaint I have is that no helmets are provided, so you have to bring your own.”

Brazilian Paulo Almeida was heading home to the Talbot Street stand, a route he uses every day. “I have a bike, but I use it only for long cycles, or when I go out of Dublin. For the city centre, I use Dublin Bikes. I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to leave my own bike, or about locking it. The only thing is that often on Monday mornings, my local bike stand is empty, because they haven’t refilled them yet.”

“I’ve been using the bikes since they started,” says David Grange, who has come from “my” stand at Charlemont Place. “I did think a lot of bikes would have been broken by now, or not used, or not maintained, but that hasn’t happened.” He’s on his way to a local gym. “I had been going to get my own bike, but there’s really nowhere safe to put it in Dublin, especially overnight.”

Eileen Shortiss has had three bikes stolen. Now she uses the bike scheme. Her daily work commute is by Luas from Dundrum to St Stephen’s Green; she picks up a bike there and cycles to the Parnell Street stand. “If I walk, it’s 20 minutes or more. On the bike, it’s less than seven minutes.” She does the reverse journey in the afternoon.

“I think the bike scheme works in a city this size,” suggests Joyce Milligan. She uses the bikes a “few times a week” and is on her way home to the North Strand from work. Milligan will be leaving her Chatham Street bike at the Talbot Street stand. “You’re never really more than 15 minutes on a bike from wherever you’re going – well, I never am, anyway.”

While I’m talking to Milligan, about four other people come and go in a flurry, taking and returning bikes with speed and confidence. It occurs to me these are not bikes at all, they’re really homing pigeons, constantly flying around the city but always coming back to roost in their little metal nests.