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Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Best Money Can Buy

It takes a special breed of hombre to walk out of a crowded shopping mall carrying a toilet seat for all the world to see (you have to pay ten cents extra for a bag). But why would I hide it? I bought the best damn toilet seat money can buy (at least at Carrefour). As I was waiting in the cashier line I told the little boy behind me, “Es el mejor que hay (It’s the best there is)!” I was really hoping that someone I know would spot me as I walked out or as I rode home with it in the basket of the Valenbisi bike. No such luck so I’ll have to settle for posting a pic here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Valencia vs Barcelona: Valenbisi vs Bicing

When I first thought of coming to Spain I narrowed the choice of cities down to Barcelona and Valencia.* I chose Valencia for a couple of reasons. I figured that it would be a better city for cycling and I also thought it would be a better place to learn Spanish. I think that I was right on both counts but I often think about how great it would be to live in Barcelona. In fact, I think that every time I go there for a visit but this thought fades when the train slows down to enter into Valencia airspace. I believe that I chose well.

Barcelona is truly one of the great cities of the world and rates right up there (in my book, at least) with Paris and New York.  On this last visit I covered my square kilometers than in all my previous trips thanks to my inclusion in Barcelona’s bike share program called Bicing. I noticed these funny bikes many years ago when I visited the city after the program’s inception and hated the fact that non-residents were left out of the fun. This time around a resident friend loaned me her card and I put if to very good use. My first impression of this program was to compare it to Valencia’s bike share program called Valenbisi.

First of all, the program in Valencia can be used by tourists and this use is encouraged. There are 10 day plans but if you are going to use it for more than that it’s probably easier to just go for the one year subscription which is 26€ these days. It is possible to be up and riding on a Valenbisi bicycle within 30 minutes if you know how to do it. As I said, the program in Barcelona is exclusive and for residents only. That just bugs me. I heard that the folks around town who rent bikes complained when the Bicing was initiated and forbade its use for tourists. In the Barcelona program you can take a bike for 30 minutes and after you dock it at a station you have to wait ten minutes to take another bike. In Valencia you can immediately take another bike. I don’t understand this point in Barcelona as the city is big enough that you often need more than 30 minutes to effect your trip.

As far as the bikes themselves I would lean towards the Valenbisi bikes which are sturdier. The basket on these bikes is very useful while the Bicing bikes just have a sort of slot on the front that is almost more trouble than it’s worth. This wouldn’t be such a big thing if I didn’t use the basket every time I take a damn bike. On Bicing I was forever trying to find a way to secure my small daypack so this little detail ends up being a huge pain in the ass.

The Bicing bikes have actual tube tires with air unlike the Valenbisi tires which are hard rubber. This means comfort and speed over no flats, ever. The Valenbisi bikes are also heavier so these two issues—weight and uncompromising and slow wheels—would make these bikes extremely difficult to pump up the hills in Barcelona. In fact, above a certain elevation they don’t even bother to include bike stations in Barcelona as few riders would be willing or able to ride up. They already have a big problem in Barcelona—much bigger than in Valencia—of having to redistribute the bikes from bottom to the top of the city with the Bicing fleet of trucks.

In conclusion, I prefer the Valenbisi bikes and system over Barcelona’s Bicing although I wouldn’t want to hump up the hills there on the hogs we have here. If they could only fix the damn baskets on Bicing!

*Madrid was a distant third in this race because of my desire to be near the Mediterranean.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Whatever It Is, I'm Against It!

In an American political culture where for some the word “progress” is a pejorative I guess it’s to be expected that there will be people who actually oppose bicycles as a form of human transportation. Ever since New York City’s bike share program rolled out a few months ago I have noticed a fair degree of opposition, at least judging from the trolls on the New York Times online page.

In this article they talk about how the system has some glitches because at certain times of day at certain stations there are either no bikes or no place to dock the bike on which you arrived. This was all the issue needed for a virtual avalanche of stupidity in the comments section where at least a dozen readers mocked the program because although it is touted as being a green alternative to driving cars they must employ six trucks to ferry bikes around town from station to station. We are talking about six trucks out of 42,010 bike trips taken on a single day in the city in a system that thus far has 73,000 subscribers so pure stupidity doesn't begin to explain the opposition's argument.

People have called the bikes and the stations ugly yet a city absolutely filled with dormant automobiles doesn’t seem like an eyesore to them. The opposition simply lacks any sense of logic and reflects the true nature of modern American conservatives and their contrarian position reminding me of the number from Horse Feathers, “I’m against it.”

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bikes Atop Barcelona

I'm sure this isn't a first but I doubt it happens very often that someone climbs to Parc G├╝ell on one of these kind-a-crappy Bicing bikes. I asked a resident near the park gate if there was a Bicing station nearby. He looked down the steep slope of the hill and seemed to be thinking, "Why the fuck would they put a station on this street?" before telling me to look several blocks below.