Could there be a more perfect way to visit Boulder’s top attractions than on a shared e-bike, one of the approximately 300 available 24/7 at Boulder BCycle stations spread throughout the city?
Traveling around town on these bikes—which the industry calls “micro-mobility devices”—is like taking an outdoor spin class. Yet, when faced with inclines—this being a bike-friendly city in the famed Rocky Mountain Foothills, after all—the bikes help your superpowers kick in.
The sturdy, class 1, step-through Trek bikes are pedal-assisted three-speeders perfect for flatlanders visiting Boulder on vacation and unaccustomed to hills or the heart-pounding 5,600-foot elevation. For locals, they’re also ideal for making short trips around town in an eco-friendly way.
“Electric bicycles keep people moving with efficiency and ease, no matter their age or physical abilities, while also displacing trips by car,” says Jenn Dice, CEO of PeopleForBikes, the national biking advocacy nonprofit based in Boulder. “An all-in approach to reducing carbon emissions must recognize the power electric bicycles have to take cars off the road while keeping people moving, active and connected to their communities.”
When you pedal, the electric motor engages to assist with a boost of power. The harder you pedal, the more the motor helps out. Want to feel the burn? You can turn off the power and just pedal. Still, even with the pedal-assist activated, you can get in a workout.
So what if you’re being passed by someone in a bright Lycra Spandex outfit on a $12,000 S-Works Roubaix performance road bike—what’s the rush? You’re on an indestructible 55-pound electric bike with puncture-resistant city tires, a basket, smartphone holder, front and back lights, wheel reflectors, Bosch eBike Systems drivetrain, computer and battery, integrated warning bell, fenders and chain guards to protect clothing, a lock and a wide cushioned seat—in fact, everything but a set of playing cards for the spokes.
Visitors can power their way around town at a maximum assisted speed of 15 miles per hour. The robust bike-share system covers Iris Avenue to Baseline and Broadway to 55th Street—including sightseeing destinations like Pearl Street, Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, The Museum of Boulder and the University of Colorado Boulder. Fifty-five convenient docking stations mean you can safely lock your borrowed bike, enjoy the sights, then pick up a new BCycle for the next stop. No need to lug around a heavy Kryptonite U-Lock from home.
To learn more about Boulder BCycle, I first visited its headquarters and maintenance facility in a nondescript strip mall near Boulder Junction. A tour inside was like visiting Willy Wonka’s factory—without the chocolate.
There were bikes everywhere. Wheels hanging from the ceiling. New Trek bikes yet to be unpacked. Older manual bikes about to be donated. Fleet technicians were repairing e-bikes before sending them out again, and test-driving recently repaired bikes within the 6,000-square-foot space.
There, I met Kevin Crouse, Boulder BCycle’s general manager. Born and raised in Colorado, Crouse first learned about bike-sharing while visiting Europe and was immediately intrigued. As BCycle was gearing up to launch its Boulder bike-share network in 2011, Crouse began volunteering with the organization and, over the years, rose through the ranks.
“I’m proud of what Boulder BCycle accomplishes on a daily basis,” Crouse tells me. “We’re a small, dedicated team operating one of the busiest and longest-running bike share systems in the country.”
Today, 13 full- and part-time employees maintain Boulder BCycle’s fleet of e-bikes and batteries 24 hours a day. The batteries of docked bikes are swapped out on a rotating basis in the early morning by a field technician often riding an electric cargo bike, which is a nice sustainable touch when you think about it.
And Boulder isn’t the only city with a bike-share fleet. BCycle currently operates eight bike-share systems in the U.S., while also supplying electric bikes and equipment to 28 additional systems across the country. Last year alone, pedalers took more than 1.5 million rides on BCycle e-bikes nationwide.
“Our mission is to make bikes the most convenient, fun and safe mode for trips within Boulder,” says Crouse. “We’re part of Trek, a company changing the world by getting more people on bikes.”
How It Works
BCycle is not just an automated bike rental program. The Boulder BCycle system is designed for short, get-around-town trips of an hour or less. If you want a bike for the day, Crouse suggests renting from retailers such as University Bicycles at 839 Pearl St. instead.
To get started, download the BCycle app and enter a credit card. A single-ride pass is $5 for one 30-minute ride over a 24-hour period, then $5 for each additional 30 minutes. Staying longer? Consider a $30 monthly pass for an unlimited number of 60-minute trips. In fact, use the bike all day long for the month, so long as it shakes hands with a docking station at least every 60 minutes.
The app includes a map of docking stations and the availability of BCycles at each one. When you arrive at a docking station, unlock the bike, adjust the seat, don a helmet (not included but recommended) and start exploring.
It’s more economical than Uber or Lyft and opens up miles of multi-use paths unavailable to cars (plus, you can also ride on bike lanes in the street). Plus, it’s a great way to test-drive an e-bike before buying one for yourself.
Why Biking Is A Great Way to Get Around Boulder
Boulder is consistently rated as one of the best places to bike in the country. That’s thanks largely to its active culture, more than 300 days of sunshine and more than 300 miles of bikeways, including 96 miles of bike lanes, 84 miles of multi-use paths, 50 miles of designated bike routes and a growing network of Neighborhood Green Streets that prioritize bicycle and pedestrian travel.
What’s more, some 80 bike and pedestrian underpasses make it possible for almost completely uninterrupted travel, no matter where you’re headed.
On a recent spin from the North Boulder Recreation Center to the farmers market on 13th Street, riding a BCycle was like scoring a backstage pass to the Boulder lifestyle. Most of the trip was on bike paths, away from highly caffeinated drivers scrolling TikTok.
Starting from the rec center’s packed pickleball courts, I zoomed past community gardens, the seven-figure homes on Alpine Drive with world-class views of the Flatirons—the city’s version of beachfront property—then to the market, where I treated myself to a $6 giant pretzel. Of course, that negates any caloric benefit of pedaling there, but who’s counting?
You can buy that $12,000 bicycle if you want, but the e-bike industry claims more people are getting out to enjoy more trips thanks to the ease and outright two-wheeled fun of zapping around on e-bikes.
It can be twice as fun when you combine that with a visit to Boulder.
For more information:
Boulder BCycle: boulder.bcycle.com
For a downloadable bicycle and pedestrian map of Boulder: bouldercolorado.gov/services/bike
Learn more about how bikes can reduce reliance on cars: PeopleforBikes.org
Jeff Blumenfeld, a resident of Boulder, is the author of “Travel With Purpose: A Field Guide to Voluntourism” (Rowman & Littlefield). www.TravelwithPurposeBook.com