Pictured Above: At the west side of the Shinnecock Inlet on Dune Road, one of the docking station locations for a new countywide bike sharing program.
It was dawn on a Monday in mid-September when Beacon staffers embarked on a mission to try out a new bikeshare system being organized by Suffolk County in three South Shore towns.
Like many East Enders, we’d seen docking stations filled with identical bicycles with corporate branding in other places, from New York City to overseas, but we’d never tried out riding these bikes elsewhere.
It seems silly to download an app and give your credit card number to a potentially dubious online sharing economy company, especially if you’re only going to be in town for an afternoon or if you can’t read the instructions because they are in a language you can’t read.
But Suffolk County’s new program, named Bethpage Ride for its sponsor, the Bethpage Federal Credit Union, is going to become a regular sight on the East End over the next two years of this pilot program. These sturdy five-speed bicycles have already been set up in Hampton Bays, Patchogue and Babylon, and they’re due to arrive in Riverhead later this fall.
In honor of Car Free Day Long Island in late September, riders have a free hour-long session to check out the bikes through the end of the year, by typing the promo code ridecarfree60 into the promo tab on an app called ‘Pace.’
The app, whose icon is a bubbly white “P” floating on a bright blue background, was easy to find through the app store on our iPhones by searching “Pace bike share.” Once it downloaded, it felt as familiar and user-friendly as Uber.
We were still somewhat nervous, though, thinking through all the what-ifs — what if I can’t lock this bike back to the rack when I’m done with it? What if I need to stop somewhere and the bike is stolen? What if I get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere? This is what had stopped us before, when we’d thought about trying out bikesharing in other places, but we weren’t about to let it stop us so close to home.
We headed down to the far eastern end of Dune Road at the Shinnecock Inlet in Hampton Bays, where we let our phones commune with the Bluetooth receiver in the bikes. Turns out you need to give Pace your credit card or Paypal info, even if you’re using the free promo code, and this isn’t the easiest thing to do with the sun in your eyes. It’s far better to download the app and put in your credit card information at home, far from the wind and the glare.
If we’d just wandered up to the bike docking station, we might have been a bit confused. There are instructions on an informational sign, but most of the information on the sign is reminding you to include a hashtag for Bethpage Ride when you share Instagram pictures of your ride.
Beacon staffers are about the median age of your average East Ender, for whom hashtags and Instagram are known entities, but not exactly tools that we view as extensions of our fingers.
So, there we were, squinting at our phones in the brisk wind, trying to figure out how to unlock the bikes from the racks. This seemed the most dubious part of the operation — after all, we were trusting a Bluetooth signal to perform a mechanical operation that would release a lock. That requires a lot of faith in the Internet of Things.
We pressed a little icon of a lock on the bottom of the home screen map of the Pace app, which connected to a list of the bikes sitting in front of us. We matched the numbers on our phone screens to numbers on the bikes that seemed to have the most air in the tires (they all seemed well inflated, but this program is new….) and clicked a little button on the app. One lock popped open. Another remained shut. We cancelled that ride and tried again. The lock popped open and both our bikes were free.
Now, you might be forgiven for looking at these bikes and thinking they are not fast. But they are not slow either. They come with just what you might need to stay safe and comfortable — a taillight and a sweet little hand bell, wide seats and cruiser handlebars, flat pedals, a girl-style step-through frame and a basket whose holes were so wide only the biggest dinner plate clamshell could survive as a souvenir of a morning of beachcombing.
But we didn’t have all morning. We just had an hour — one free hour before the pressure of deadline sent us running back to work — and the clock was ticking fast. We huffed into the wind, taking a cruise down the Shinnecock fishing dock, then sidled up to the brand-spanking new Ponquogue Beach pavilion, where we debated whether to lock our bikes up again after the glitches in unlocking them the first time. We decided against this. Actuarily, this may have been a mistake. Legally, we must have been on the hook, but we had been too excited to read the fine print.
We ran headlong to the open ocean, scooped up a couple giant clamshells, a fresh crop of bright orange scallop shells and one fully intact moonshell, played chicken with the surf line for a few minutes, marveled that we’d been to busy working to see the ocean yet this year, and then ran back to find our bikes right where we left them, next to a man washing his terrier’s paws off under the shower at the beach pavilion.
Then we noticed there was another Bethpage Ride bike docking station right next to the pavilion. We were thrilled! We envisioned riding our bikes from the Hampton Bays Post Office, downtown, over the Ponquogue Bridge and docking it for the day while we took in the sand and the surf and whatever great snacks they must have in the summer at the snack bar. Then we realized our hour was nearly up, and hightailed it up the road to our car parked back at the inlet. Work awaited.
With 59 minutes on the clock, we panicked when the Bluetooth signal took its sweet time connecting to the locks, which we had to mechanically maneuver into perfect position for them to snap shut and end our time on the clock. Worst case scenario, we’d each have been out $1 for 15 minutes of overtime. So, really, what was the need for the panic? It was part of our DNA.
Back in the car, heading to our office on the North Fork, we daydreamed that these bicycles would one day be at the New Suffolk Post Office, right near our headquarters. We daydreamed about riding these bright orange bikes up to the Mattituck LIRR station and jumping on a train to Riverhead for the day. We fretted about the lack of helmets and road shoulders along our morning Dune Road ride and wondered if we’d really be safe out there on the open road.
But more than anything, we felt alive and ready for everything the day could bring. And that’s a feeling you can’t buy.
Since we fell for the free promo code, we now have our credit card information stored on the Pace app. And if this program keeps gaining steam, we’d be hard-pressed not to just jump on the nearest bike we see. Heck, maybe we’ll even set up a corporate account. All our employee would be thrilled to ride to work feeling this good each and every morning. God willing, this program will be here to stay.
Need to Know:
• In Hampton Bays, the bikes can be found at docking stations at Good Ground Park, by the Post Office downtown, at Tiana Beach, Ponquogue Beach and on the west side of the Shinnecock Inlet at Dune Road.
• Riders can find docking stations in Patchogue at the Patchogue LIRR Station, Blue Point Brewery, the Patchogue Theater Alley, Roe Walkway, Davis Park Ferry and Mascot Dock.
• Locations in Babylon include the Babylon LIRR Station, the Babylon Village Pool, Argyle Park/Carlston Place, Locust Avenue, Park Avenue and Totten Place.
•The Riverhead program hadn’t been finalized as of press time, but Riverhead is expecting to have five docking stations downtown one will be at the EPCAL bike trail in Calverton.
• Riders can pay $1 per 15 minutes, but can also opt for a monthly plan for $10 or a yearly plan for $60 per year. Both plans allow for unlimited trips of up to 30 minutes.
• Using the promo code ridecarfree60, riders will be able to receive a 60-minute free ride to try the system through the end of this year.
• The locations of the docking stations can be found in the Pace app, along with the current number of bicycles at each docking station. Riders can return the bikes to any docking station, or they can leave them locked in a safe location when they terminate the ride on the app for a $2 additional fee.
— Beth Young