Special Report: Cycling

Hamilton Bike Share Review

The comfortable bikes and advanced electronics make it easy and convenient to use. Even although I have my own bicycle, I will continue to use SoBi so I can walk away from the bike worry-free.

By Kevin Love
Published March 24, 2015

On Saturday, March 21, I attended the Hamilton Bike Share Community Bike Ride. The premise was simple: Everyone shows up, takes a brand-new bike, and rides it to a bike share hub wherever they want in Hamilton. This enabled Hamilton Bike Share to distribute its new bikes throughout the service area.

Hamilton Bike Share hub, Hunter GO Station (RTH file photo)
Hamilton Bike Share hub, Hunter GO Station (RTH file photo)

To get there, I rode my old CCM bike to the SoBi headquarters at the Seedworks offices on Catharine Street. There were about 50 people and 150 bikes, so there were enough bikes available for everyone.

First, it was photo time. A photographer made a video of everyone passing a bike around and then he used a flying drone to take a photo of us standing around spelling out "SoBi."

It was announced that for a limited time, the out-of-station fees would be waived for parking a SoBi bike somewhere else than at one of the SoBi stations. But it must still be in the overall Hamilton service area!

Then we took the bikes out. It was a great feeling riding along with lots of other people. It felt a lot less hostile and a lot more secure due to the safety in numbers effect. I was feeling that it would be great to bring Critical Mass back to Hamilton.

My ride ended at the Durand Park hub station. This is the station nearest to where I live. But there was a problem. My CCM bike was still at Seedworks.

So I hitched up my Pashley Roadster Sovereign bike to my Wike cargo trailer and went to Seedworks to get my CCM bike.

Bike carried on bike trailer
Bike carried on bike trailer

With several bungee cords to hold it on to the bike trailer, my CCM bike went home.

One SoBi bike successfully distributed.

My Impressions

Ryan has already published a review of the SoBi bike. Here are some additional observations of my own.

It fits!

I am a giant, standing a bit over two metres tall. And yet the SoBi bike fits me well. I am able to sit fully upright with my back straight in the best ergonomically correct posture. People who are quite short have also been able to use the bike.

This is a good design that accommodates a wide variety of people.

The Gears

The joke is that it has three gears, which are low, lower and lowest. This is a feature, not a bug. Bike share bikes must be usable by everyone, including the elderly and anyone else who is not the strongest of people.

The bike is not designed for speed. My typical use is to ride in third (top) gear on level ground and coast down hills.

The Basket

The basket is quite useful for a shopping bag, briefcase or purse. However, the steel grid in the bottom is quite wide, allowing smaller objects to fall through. Beware!

The Electronics

The older Bixi model as used in Toronto puts the electronic interface on a kiosk attached to a bike docking station. SoBi puts the electronic interface on the bike.

This prevents the phenomenon of "dock blocking." Dock blocking happens in Toronto when I go to return my Bixi bike but all the docks on the bike station are full.

With SoBi I can just lock it anywhere. If I let SoBi know that the station was full, they will not charge the usual out-of-station $3 fee.


This is why I use SoBi. My workplace provides secure storage for my private bike. But if I am going anywhere that requires me to lock up my nice Pashley bike on the street I have just a little bit of worry.

Not with SoBi! With SoBi I can get anywhere in downtown Hamilton in less than ten minutes and walk away from it worry-free.

Overall evaluation

I like the SoBi system. The advanced electronics make it easy and convenient to use. Even although I have my own bicycle, I will continue to ride SoBi to downtown Hamilton destinations so I can walk away from the bike worry-free.

Kevin is a professional accountant and a retired infantry officer with the Canadian Forces. Kevin keeps encountering people who were students of his father, Dr. Robert Love, who was a professor at MacMaster University from 1977-2008. He lives near Durand Park in Hamilton and is currently Vice-Chair of the Hamilton Cycling Committee.


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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted March 24, 2015 at 10:43:46

Thanks for the review. I've been considering this as the cost of a decent bike lock is about the same as the SoBo yearly fee.

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By bikerray (anonymous) | Posted March 24, 2015 at 14:54:22

I ride daily and it seems like I am passing Sobi racks everywhere. During the Winter you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of 'regular bikers'around the east side of Downtown it is very lonely. Conceptually Sobi is great but realistically and rather sadly it is probably is doomed. Since the bikes got installed I have only encountered two riders on Sobi bikes over the last 3 months or so. Recreational bike riding is popular but translating that to mean that 'a dependable demand exists for in-traffic riding around a City core' is a very big leap and especially so during the Winter. I certainly hope that things are different for Sobi during the Spring/Summer.

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By CarolineLC (registered) | Posted March 24, 2015 at 15:50:57 in reply to Comment 110471

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 24, 2015 at 19:50:15 in reply to Comment 110477

Everywhere? You must not ride into the parts of the city where the majority of the population lives - we have been left high and dry.

Obviously, "everywhere" would not be feasible to start. And so here we get a classic example of making the perfect the enemy of the good: i we can't have the bikes everywhere, then the system is terrible.

(though it's hard not to suspect that CLC's reasoning didn't actually work the opposite direction)

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 24, 2015 at 16:59:14 in reply to Comment 110477

As you have been told at least two times now (including by SoBi), you CAN ride into areas outside the service area of the system provided you place the bike on hold if you leave it, and then return it to a rack within the service area.

Although the service area does not cover the entire City it goes from Ottawa Street to Dundas, and from the waterfront to Concession. This is an enormous area for the first iteration of a brand new service and the goal is to expand it as demand grows.

This system is already far more flexible than other bike shares (where the bikes must be locked to a special rack). And I don't know of any bike share service that covers an entire city of the size of Hamilton from day one (compare with bixi in Toronto http://www.bikesharetoronto.com/stations or Montreal https://montreal.bixi.com/maps/map or Salt Lake City https://configuringgreenbike.bcycle.com/...!

Please try to be reasonable in your demands: there are good reasons why the service has started in the lower city (demand, cycling infrastructure, councillor support). If you support it there is a very good chance it will soon extend to more of the Mountain and further East. If you keep criticizing it and telling people not to support it there is no chance you will see a station in Glanbrook or Ancaster.

Please stop claiming that you cannot take bikes out of the service area, and please try to understand that this is already the seventh largest service in North America and to try to make it even bigger from the start would not be a sound business decision if we want this service to be a success.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-03-24 17:12:42

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 24, 2015 at 18:28:53 in reply to Comment 110480

Actually, the service area goes to Fennell, but the four Mountain hubs are on Concession, Mountain Park Drive and the top of the Chedoke stairs.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 24, 2015 at 18:19:48 in reply to Comment 110480

In Toronto, the Bixi bike share system launched in May of 2011 with a network of 800 bicycles. We are starting off with 750 in Hamilton. Not bad.

Hamilton has the largest 4th generation bike share system in North America. Perhaps even in the entire world, but I am not sure of this.

Yes, there were some teething problems getting the technology up and running. That happens when we are the largest of the most advanced 4th generation systems.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2015-03-24 18:20:19

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By MuximunHammer (anonymous) | Posted March 24, 2015 at 15:14:12

Good review thanks. I did not get to the official group ride, however I managed to sign up and got to try the new SoBi bikes this past weekend. I was encountered by two people while riding. One notably was an elderly woman by Dundurn stairs she was very curious how the system works and elated with the new transportation service option available in Hamilton.
This bike share program will take sometime to catch on but in time people will come to their senses and figure out that bicycles are just hands down a better way to get around. I will be keeping my membership even though I have my own bike in support of sustainable options for our city.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted March 24, 2015 at 22:18:30

Awesome that this is up and running now. These systems are terrific, for both residents and visitors. Hopefully we'll see future expansions across the city.

How does the electronic unit stay charged? Is there a dynamo on the back wheel?

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted March 25, 2015 at 23:20:43 in reply to Comment 110494

the system and lights are powered by solar panel.

Comment edited by Core-B on 2015-03-25 23:21:39

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By Bubbs (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2015 at 19:23:44

ok first of all,
the pricing ...........
you should just simply be able to put 10/20 buks into a machine(kinda like a parking meter) and take a bike for 5-10hrs
piece of cake!

id bet my bottom dollar this is gunna fail!

you need to make the payments more conveint. people who use bikes are often on o.w or have less of an income....its not everyday that a guy with a car wakes up and says ill jus go use a bike....

welll specially not the way sobi worx...its to much jus to rent a dang bike!

come on put up a meter that takes cash and rent em for the day its hamilton .... not holllywood.

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