Getting around the Bay Area by Ford GoBike

Looking to go out of town and getting that “how will I live without a bike?!” anxiety? If you’re headed to the Bay area, the Ford GoBike bike share program might fit the bill.

When traveling out of town and especially into major cities, having access to a bike for me and my kid is crucial to exploring new places. Typically we are driving to our destination and can strap the bikes on the car, but recently we flew into San Francisco and had to figure out our bike situation stat. I knew I would have access to an EdgeRunner from a generous co-worker but I also knew that taking an Edge from Oakland to SF would require a ferry ride which I was down to do once or twice, just not every day. Not to mention my independent rider loves being able to take to the pedals on her own in a new place. For us, the Ford GoBike bike share in the Bay Area met so many of our needs.

While normally I would prefer to support a local bike shop with my rental money, the cost of a 10-day rental for one and sometimes two bikes would have been financially unsustainable for this mother-daughter duo. We live and breath riding bikes so I think we are a special kind of bike tourist for whom the rental plans at most of the shops didn’t make much sense.

Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored, it’s just an honest opinion from an Xtracycle team member 🙂

The reasons the Ford GoBikes worked so well for us were:

  • the wide availability of stations meant there were plenty of opportunities for my kiddo to hop off my EdgeRunner when we had it and grab a bike if she wanted
  • it cost $30 for the two of us for unlimited rides (max time of 45 minutes but we were able to work around this)
  • we could use our Clipper card to unlock bikes (a huge relief since my phone was dying so fast!)
  • we had guaranteed access to bikes for us both in most areas we were visiting

So here is how we used the system to meet our needs while in town.

Setting up your Ford GoBike account: One-time, 30 minute rides are $3 / trip and a day pass of unlimited 30 minutes rids is $10 / day. Knowing we would be using these bikes a lot, the $15 / month option made more sense for me and my kid. We both signed up for a $15 / month Ford GoBike account. Each rider has to have their own account (using separate email addresses) and we simply canceled these accounts after we left. We then linked our Clipper cards (which we already had from riding the BART) to our accounts. This way, even if I forgot my smartphone or it was dead, we could still access a bike.

bay area ford gobike

Finding rides: When I had an EdgeRunner, I would ride with my daughter until we found a station in SF or Oakland. In some areas they were all over so we would just ride until we found one but otherwise we could pull up our Ford GoBike app to look one up on the map. She would then hop off my bike, tap her Clipper Card to the bike dock, grab her own bike, and ride next to me for about 45 minutes, at which time we would find another station to swap the bike out or she would just ride on my bike again. If we were heading into the city and I didn’t have the EdgeRunner, we would take BART to a station and look for a Ford Bike rack when we got there, which most stations had nearby. One thing we did notice is the bike stations tended to be in flatter areas, which makes sense for non-electric bikes. If we planned to go outside of the bike docking station area for more than 45 minutes (our membership fee covered ride time – it cost $3 per 15 minutes after that), we would drop the bike off at the last station we were going to pass and the kiddo would either ride on my bike, or we would take public transit the rest of the way.

BYOH – Bring your own helmet: Whether I intend to use a bike share bike or rent from a shop at my final destination, I always bring my helmet with my carry on bags on long trips. As an adult, this is not 100% necessary but I would rather wear a helmet and not need it than not wear a helmet and need it. When it comes to kiddos, in most states, it’s illegal for a child to ride without a helmet. By bringing yours and your kiddo’s helmet along on the plane, you can ensure that not having a helmet won’t hinder your riding abilities on the other side of your flight.

Some user notes about Clipper cards: We had a hard time keeping track of which card went with which bike and sometimes I would try to use the same card to get a second bike. Each card can only have one bike rented out on it at a time so this was a no-go. Writing on your Clipper with a Sharpie should help keep this straight.

We also discovered that there is a 1-2 minute lag between checking in a bike and the Ford GoBike system allowing you to check out a new one. When we checked in a bike, we would simply wait a few minutes for the interwebs to update and would then go get a second bike. If the lights flash red, just give the system another minute before trying again.

There were some limitations to using these bikes but nothing we couldn’t work around. Not being able to take a bike past Fisherman’s Wharf or into Golden Gate Park for a whole day without paying $3 / 15 minutes after our 45 allotted time was a little meh but we just made sure I had the EdgeRunner on those days so I could carry the kid the rest of the way. If we had wanted an all day bike rental far outside of the bike dock stations and I knew I wouldn’t have access to a cargo bike, we would have looked into a daily bike rental from a local shop.

What about e-Bikes? Ford GoBike offers Class 1 eBikes (max assist speed of 18 MPH) which (as far as my reading shows), are legal for kiddos to ride in California. When we heard this, my kiddo and I were so excited since it meant those hills would be easier to climb together. Unfortunately, we ran into a snag. The seat post on the eBikes cannot go as low as the seat post on the non-eBikes. This meant that my 5 foot + tall 10 year old could not sit low enough to be comfortable. I was surprised to see this since it limits the height of its riders to my guess of 5’4″ and taller. I’m 5’6″ and found the seat post to be adjustable enough for me. This revelation was a bummer since this was going to be my kiddo’s first experience riding her own eBike but we worked around it by using other forms of transit and by staying in more flat areas when we were riding.

If you are lookin’ to visit the Bay area and want quick and easy access to a set of wheels on a whim, consider taking a Ford GoBike for a ride or if you are like us, 14 rides over ten days.