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Cover photo by Vishal Malhotra Cover design by Ryan Burger

In the seconds between mounting the bikeshare bike and wobbling into the lazy, eastbound crawl of Magnolia Ave’s weekend afternoon traffic, I had this thought: “Like riding a bike” is a useful phrase for everything except riding a bike. This was a couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday afternoon in February that was cloudless and warm enough to wear shorts if you stayed out of the shade. My friend Austin Green, himself riding a bikeshare bike, coasted half a block ahead of me, a blur of hair, hoodie, and red, boxy bicycle zipping past Kent & Co., caught in the jumble of visual data. If you learned how to do it once, the memory remains, and your legs and inner ear and cerebrum and all the other pieces that handle riding a bike get the job done. But being rusty is being rusty.

Coasting downhill on a bike is pretty much the best feeling. Photo by Vishal Malhotra

Yet by the time we stopped at the light at Hemphill, I felt at ease. “Coasting downhill on a bike is pretty much the best feeling,” Austin said, pedaling into the intersection and into a breezy glide toward Main, up onto the sidewalk in front of St. Mary of the Assumption and over the slopes of her handicap ramps. 

We turned north onto Main, and I realized just how transportive a bicycle can be –– not only in a physical sense between one location and another but also temporally, between now and whenever you first made it to the end of the driveway with the training wheels off. Most people learn to ride a bike in childhood, and the connection between your all-absorbent kid-brain and the world seen from bikes is intense and impactful, a honking symphony of emotions and sensory input recorded in aching quads, burning lungs, and gallons of smelly, pre-adolescent attitude but also in the ecstasy of wind and watering eyes, of dares and races across hot summer evenings, and in the inarticulate sadness of solo rides in the bare-tree melancholy of winter afternoons. When you’re a kid, a bike is the synchronicity of velocity and freedom, where a town is less a town than a secret maze of shortcuts and possibilities.

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For this story, I rode Fort Worth Bike Sharing B-Cycle bikes –– heretofore known as “bikeshare bikes” –– with Austin and then by myself the following Saturday and the Monday after that. In the assignment’s subtext, I think I was supposed to determine the bikes’ utility as a legitimate form of transportation vis-a-vis some recent changes at Fort Worth Bike Sharing, the nonprofit that operates Fort Worth’s shared-bikes enterprise. Not only had its longtime executive director departed, Fort Worth Bike Sharing was forced to close down one of its stations, the bicycle dock at Forest Park and Park Hill, due to under-utilization. I don’t know what their finances are, but the email they sent me about it seemed to suggest shutting down that station was a tough but necessary decision. But for all those precarious developments, the reason for riding a bike matters less to me than that they’re ridden. I can’t emphasize enough what those afternoons did for my mental health.

•••••

Both their recreational benefits and the community service they provide make the bikeshare bikes a vital resource.

Per its website, Fort Worth Bike Sharing’s expressed mission is “to enhance our community by providing an affordable, efficient, environmentally friendly bike share program that complements our existing public transportation system and provides both residents and visitors a healthy, convenient way to move around our city.” A noble cause and one, based on my three days of riding their bikes, they achieve but mostly if you want to see Fort Worth’s central corridor. If you want to traverse Fort Worth from Waterside or the TCU area and up through the Cultural District, the Stockyards, West 7th, Downtown, and the Near Southside, bikeshare bikes, combined with the Trinity Trails, are an enjoyable, viable alternative to an automobile.

The bikes’ memberships range from a 24-hour day pass that costs $8 (plus tax) to an annual pass that goes for $100. During your membership duration, you can unlock bikes at any station an unlimited number of times for no additional charge, provided you dock your unlocked bike at any station before an hour is up. If you don’t, you are charged an additional $4. 

Fort Worth Bike Sharing started on April 22, 2013, with the financial heft of a Federal Transit Administration grant bringing the B-Cycle equipment to Cowtown. Owned by Waterloo, Wisconsin-based Trek Bicycle Corporation, B-Cycle provides a system composed of the bikes and the solar-powered docking stations at cities across the country. In Fort Worth, the stations are all within an hour’s ride to the next nearest one, so if you go over your limit and are charged that extra four bucks, it’s probably because you lingered longer at a stop. 

Stops to spend money on snacks and drinks or whatever make the bikes worth the city’s investment and its residents’ interest and time, but Fort Worth Bike Sharing also offers free semester memberships for TCU students, as well as the First Mile program, which sells low-income and transit-dependent members of the community annual memberships for $10. Both their recreational benefits and the community service they provide make the bikeshare bikes a vital resource. 

Austin and I made our way through Downtown and the 7th Street Bridge, coasting to a stop in front of the dock near Montgomery Plaza. We reset our bikes and rode to Lola’s, where, over a couple beers, we planned our route to Woodshed, where we would have another round before heading back to Magnolia.

Having mentioned beers, I should make clear that I am not advocating the operation of a bike while intoxicated. Having said that, if you are looking for a fun way to do a little day drinking and don’t overdo it, the bikeshare bikes are a blast. Be aware that most people take about an hour to process a 0.015-percent blood-alcohol content, which means that for every hour you don’t drink, your BAC goes down by that much. Sweating and breathing eliminate about 10 percent of your alcohol content, so a beer or two between stops probably won’t send you tumping over into the Trinity. Should you get drunk, walk your bike to the nearest dock and call and Uber.

•••••

I didn’t overdo it, though I did fight exhaustion and mental surrender while pedaling up a hill into Mistletoe Heights, and those beers probably didn’t help. I’d like to point out what an accomplishment that is, especially on a bikeshare bike, because they are a workout. The Trek-made B-Cycles are heavy, durable, and built like tanks, with a good amount of cargo space (a roomy basket up front) and a clunky three-speed drivetrain that often takes its sweet effing time to shift into the middle and highest gear. These bikes are not fancy, but they are perfect for their purpose.

Photo by general bon vivant Vishal Malhotra

My second day on the bike was a week later, on an even better-weather Saturday, starting in Trinity Park with a photoshoot with Weekly photog and general bon vivant Vishal Malhotra. The scenery is invigorating, partly due to the way your brain and body open to the world to engage in a mildly dangerous activity, covering the peril with adrenaline and endorphins. Pedaling south from the basketball court, I ducked under the miniature train trestle, inhaling the peculiarly pleasant odor of their creosote-soaked ties. An oncoming cyclist, serious in bearing and dressed like he was auditioning for Alpha Flight, said something rude when I veered too close to him. Ducks launched into tandem trajectories, crossing the wingwash of a flock of pigeons, and the meat-and-onions-scented plume drifting over the river from the Pappas District made me hungry. I pedaled south, crossing the Trinity again at Westbend and then under University Drive toward the Trailhead at Clearfork. That’s when my journalistic, experiential errand became more personal.

•••••

At the start of 2009, I was halfway to 31 and at a crossroads: underemployed, single, dejected, and 30 pounds overweight, smoking pot all day on my apartment’s balcony. I decided if I was going to be a stoner, I was going to be an active one. I lived in Stonegate, and it was walks through Tanglewood and Overton Park that led me to the trails. The Trinity Trails thrilled me, and the walking turned into jogging, my runner’s high in a feedback loop with swag weed and that gorgeous, riverine backdrop. 

One day, while thumping along the crushed gravel of the jogging path, blissfully blazed, some metal playlist shredding out of my iPod and into my brain, I stopped in my tracks. There, carved in the pavement of the bike path in some ancient time, was the Van Halen logo.

If I ever hike El Camino de Santiago and do not feel the same mystical jolt from finding that piece of graffiti, I will be disappointed but not surprised. It was a silly yet powerful experience, and, for whatever reason, I never saw that Van Halen logo again. And as I biked closer and closer to Clearfork and hadn’t yet found it, I started to wonder if I’d ever seen it at all.

The Trailhead lay up ahead, and now the trees on the far bank had turned into apartments. The bike path had a length of chainlink fence across it and a detour sign, beyond which a bulldozer sat atop a hillock of mud. The path picked up just beyond the bulldozer, but I docked my bike. The sun was setting anyway. I ordered a beer at Press Café and summoned an Uber.

•••••

Riding the Clear Fork section of the Trinity Trails on that jolly red beast of a bicycle revived a place and time in my mind that I had once physically inhabited. The effect was therapeutic. When you zone out on a bike over personally important geography, you have some moments to replay the past, both recent and not, and then you have to surface to call out, “On your left!” at a couple walking a dog.

I guess I had more zoning out to do. I bought one more day membership on Monday, a day that topped out at a high of 46 and a 50/50 chance of rain. But damn it if I didn’t want to find that Van Halen logo, so I set out from Clearfork, thinking it lay between there and Waterside.

I rode past more apartments. Mallard and wood duck pairs paddled and napped in the water below me, and I crossed, yet again, to the east side of the Trinity, to the Waterside dock to reset my bike’s time. The raindrops, as promised, were falling, but they were in no apparent hurry.

North over the pavement, the bikeshare bike’s gears acting like they were on union time, I swerved in between mud patches, in the middle gear because the path turned into a scatter of crushed gravel. I caught glimpses of tinsel, indifferent to the seasons, clinging to their apartment balcony rails. A flight of cormorants and a lone egret roosted on the concrete blocks of a footbridge crossing the river just below Bryant Irvin. A dead raccoon floated near the footbridge. I paused to take a photo, but my phone died when I pressed the button.

I stopped again at the footbridge running under the Clearfork Main Street overpass to jot some notes. Someone had left a pocket Gospel of St. John on the ground. I hauled myself back onto the bike and crossed the river. Once again, the Trailhead dock appeared up ahead. When I set out, I’d totally skipped the stretch of path between the fence and the dozer’s shovel. If the Van Halen logo wasn’t there, then I’d chalk it up to too much cheap weed and get on with my life.

But soon, the old etchings appeared, declaring the love of Tim and Terri on February 1, 1984, alongside marks from Bud, Huck, and Mark H., and an ancient exhort to “Get stoned HA HA!”  Hopeful, I pedaled a little faster, making it about five more feet before screeching to a halt.

There, dug across the length and width of the pavement was that mythical “V” and “H,” just as I remembered it, inexpertly but sincerely laid for posterity. I put on “Unchained” when I got back in the car.

I put on “Unchained” when I got back in the car. Photo by Steve Steward

•••••

I don’t mean to minimalize the point-A-to-point-B functional utility of the Fort Worth Bike Sharing B-Cycles, but, for me, that’s the least-best use. I think these bikes are for people who don’t already own one, who want to feel that pure exhilaration that is specific to bicycles, who are maybe sick of staring at their phones or are caught in a desk-trap, watching their youth become a diminishing speck in the rearview mirror. Those (we) are the people who also need to ride a bike along the Trails.

Of course, Fort Worth Bike Sharing isn’t the only nonprofit bicycle game in town, and an entire story could be written about the various neighborhood chapters of the Bike Gangs of Fort Worth, a “grassroots, neighborhood-powered organization that organizes free family-friendly bike rides, repairs bikes for free, and gives bikes away for free.” That was in an email from a guy named Guido, who founded the Park Glen Bike Gang in 2016 and now oversees the chapters throughout the city. To date, BFOFW has gone on more than 50 rides and repaired and/or given away 650-plus bikes (including some adult trikes for people with special needs). There are currently four citywide chapters, with a fifth planned to roll out in the spring.

No matter who provides the bikes, I truly believe that this entire city could benefit from going on regular rides. The bikes beat the blues, even if they do it by shaking the blues loose. By the time you’ve jammed your bike in its dock and gone home for the day, you’ll feel better, and with all of 2020’s wallops already, feeling better is crucial. By supporting the bikeshare for recreational purposes, you’re also keeping them available for the people who need them the most, who find them indispensable to making a living. No matter how you use them, Fort Worth Bike Sharing’s B-Cycles are vehicles in many different ways. Hop on one and see where you end up.

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