At a glance
Where to pick up a BikeShare bike (bikes can be returned to any of the sites):
—The Saratoga Downtowner Motel, Broadway and Division Street, where everyone must register before their first ride
—The Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Spa State Park
—Spa City Bicycleworks, Beekman Street
Join these organized cycling tours during Saratoga Springs’ BikeShare Week (Both tours will leave from in front of the Saratoga Downtowner Motel, 413 Broadway):
—Historic Neighborhoods Tour — Today, 7 to 8 p.m. Field Horne will explore Saratoga’s distinctive historic neighborhoods, with a close look at the history that made each neighborhood socially and culturally different.
—Saratoga Spa State Park Tour — Saturday, 10 to 11 a.m. Dan Lynch will lead a tour of Saratoga Spa State Park to see the springs that make Saratoga Springs famous.
Riding a bicycle in downtown Saratoga Springs during the city’s busiest time of year is equal parts invigorating, entertaining and unnerving.
The main thoroughfares teem with tourists often unfamiliar with the area, so there’s always that fear of being hit by a car, but the side streets are usually quiet. The historic homes and lovely flower gardens found there are a pleasure to see while riding.
It’s BikeShare Week in Saratoga Springs, so even if you don’t have a bicycle, you can experience the thrill of touring the city on two wheels free of charge. Through Tuesday, 25 bicycles are available for public use between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. at three locations.
“We’re trying to simulate [an established] BikeShare program, so we’ve got our downtown location, our neighborhood location — which is also in the city’s Beekman Street Arts District — and we also have Saratoga Spa State Park, which is a national attraction and [has] a variety of activities there,” said Kate Maynard, the city’s principal planner.
The sturdy, white bikes are GPS-enabled. Riders enter a personal pin number into a solar-powered keypad on the back fender and off they go. There’s an onboard lock and even a button to push to call for help if there are mechanical problems.
Helmets, donated by local nonprofit Bikeatoga, are free to all riders, while they last.
Supplied with a city map and a bright red helmet, I set out on a BikeShare bike from the Broadway pickup site Wednesday morning shortly before 10. The city wasn’t packed at that hour, but there were still plenty of parked cars, pedestrians and motorists to watch out for. I took a right onto busy Lake Avenue and then wound my way through back streets to Saratoga Race Course.
Riding in the street with the flow of traffic — the proper way to do it — was a little scary on the busy roads. Avoiding parked cars, I was practically in the middle of the road, but drivers were courteous and I didn’t have any problems.
The side streets also had their share of parked cars to avoid, but there was little traffic and I was able to enjoy the scenery.
If I had time, I could have locked the bike up and gone to the horse races for the day. There is no time limit on BikeShare bike use this week, as long as the bicycle is returned by 8 p.m. on the day it is borrowed.
I looped back to Broadway by a different route, sticking as much to side streets as I could. It was easy to shift through the bike’s three gears, and they gave sufficient options for around-town touring. The bike’s wide tires and cushy seat allowed for a smooth, stable ride and the basket on the front provided a place to stow my belongings. There was even a built-in bell, just in case I needed to make my presence known.
The BikeShare city map offers a suggested route along back streets west of Broadway, down a bike path, then through Saratoga Spa State Park. It’s a pretty ride, and less nerve-wracking than pedaling through downtown.
The week of cycling is a part of a pilot program through the Capital District Transportation Committee, launched to gauge interest in a full-time BikeShare program, like those in large urban centers Buffalo and New York City. Saratoga Springs is the third Capital Region city to host a BikeShare demo this summer. A final one will be held in Albany Aug. 9-15.
The local events have sparked conversation about the need for better bicycle infrastructure, said Shanna Goldman, coordinator for Capital Region BikeShare Month.
“The streets are narrow, and there is a lot of traffic. This is true in all of our cities. We don’t have the infrastructure,” she said.
For more information on Saratoga Springs BikeShare Week, visit http://capitalmoves.org/saratoga-springs-bikeshare-week/.